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What Role Did Technology Play In The 2016 Election?

October 28,2017 05:13

Third, and this is really important, the other thing about technology is that it's always advancing - the thing that was state of the art in 2008 or 2012 is no longer state of the art in 2016. So there is continued opportunity for new technology ...and more »



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What role did technology play in Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss to Donald Trump? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Peter Kazanjy, co-founder of Tech for Campaigns, serial entrepreneur, author, investor, and advisor, on Quora:
First, I think it’s an important thing to recognize that technology is only part of the holistic story of how campaigns are won and lost. It should be looked at as a tool that provides leverage, distribution scale, and automation to people and processes.
Second, people often times look at technology adoption as an all or nothing thing: “So and so ‘gets’ technology” versus “so and so doesn’t.” And of course this is a reductive way of thinking about it - both campaigns invested heavily in technology, but differences may have played out at the margins.
Third, and this is really important, the other thing about technology is that it’s always advancing - the thing that was state of the art in 2008 or 2012 is no longer state of the art in 2016. So there is continued opportunity for new technology adoption for new sources of leverage and scale.
Lastly, while the Clinton and Trump campaigns loom large in our minds, they were both pretty evenly matched when it came to technical investment - this is because both campaigns were heavily resourced with money.
This is completely not the case in down-ticket campaigns - at the state house/state senate levels, or even low end federal levels. So the places where technology adoption can have the most disproportionate impact is at those levels (which is precisely why Tech for Campaigns focuses there).
That said, there are potentially some lessons regarding the Trump/Clinton technical harness that can be generalized:
New Campaigns do New Things: Not unlike startups who have “nothing to lose”, upstart campaigns are more prone to try new and crazy things. This goes all the way back to the Dean campaign in 2004 where Dean was one of the first candidate to raise small money donations, which was eventually tuned and perfected in the 2008 Obama campaign with the help of muscular A/B testing software (which eventually spawned companies like Optimizely). The Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012 used internet technologies to organize house parties which were centrally “orchestrated” but then executed at the edges of the network. And the Sanders campaign were heavy users of SMS-based GOTV software, which helped them execute exceptionally in younger demographics who are unreachable on Facebook, etc., but live out of iMessage. Lastly, the Trump campaign, with the help of market-standard digital agencies like Parscale Digital, focused very, very heavily in the scale afforded by Facebook’s advertising solutions. 70% of all Americans use Facebook, and unlike television spending, messages can be micro-sliced via location (zip code level), demographics (age, race, wealth) and more. This means that a campaign can narrowcast thousands of distinct messages to would-be votes to drive donations, volunteering, and even get out to vote to thousands of sliced audiences - and importantly, other audiences won’t see these messages, so they can be extremely negative, nativist, fear mongering, etc. without fear that those messages will get in front of other audiences (unlike with television ads).Additionally, the reverse can be done with “suppression” advertising, targeting the opponents would-be electorate, and delivering advertisements focusing on discouraging them from voting, donating, etc. 
The Trump campaign heavily invested in all these mechanisms.

Incumbents often play like incumbents: Anyone who has read Clayton Christensen’s Innovator's Dilemma will be familiar with the challenges incumbents have adapting to new market environments. In the case of well establish campaign apparatuses, this can mean being more prone to “stick to the playbook” - focusing on large money raises from a smaller set of large donors, and a focus on traditional media distribution channels - like television and direct mail - which is historically where 60%+ of campaign spend goes. While the Clinton campaign’s digital efforts were certainly heavily invested in, they were competing for resources with these more traditional channels as well.
Ultimately, one of the biggest lessons of the contest will be that tech adoption is something that must be treated as a first class citizen, both at the top of the ticket in presidential politics, and down ticket as well, which is precisely where Tech for Campaigns does our work.
This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:
Political Campaigns: What notable projects has Tech for Campaigns worked on?
Technology Trends: How will technology change the way campaigns are ran in years to come?
Politics: What are some important political issues that are controlled at the state level?

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