Can technology make or break a President?

By SiliconIndia   |   Friday, 29 August 2008, 14:20 Hrs
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Bangalore: Can technology make or break a president? There are evidences to prove 'yes'. Barack Obama just optimized the technology and explored the maximum possibility of it to beat his better financed and more entrenched opponent, Hilary Clinton, at least in party. Obama's campaign strategist, Axelrod, has built a system from the ground up that does something quite simple: It asks people for their help- help via vote or money.

While most of the campaign work is done by a few paid staffers without voters participation, the Obama campaign has built a community involvement strategy. Axelrod and his team realized that supporters of a political candidate are passionate and want to help. Though most supporters have full-time jobs and families, they all have five minutes to spare to help out. The Obama campaign has brilliantly taken advantage of this by actually asking people for help. They are letting a large number of people do a small amount of work each.

So if you go to an Obama rally (or just sign up on his Web site), you might be asked to call three voters in a swing state. Or if they know you are a member of Digg (the popular site that lets users vote on articles of interest), Obama's people may ask you to Digg an article that is favorable to Obama or critical of his opponent. Or they might ask you to put a bumper sticker on your MySpace (NWS) page.

Taking a look at history, one could see the visible presence of technology in American presidential elections. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio to get his message across effectively to voters. Lyndon Johnson rode a helicopter to get him around Texas in his famous race for the Senate.

John F Kennedy understood the power of television better than Richard Nixon during the race for the Presidency in 1960. And Republican operatives in the 1970s built direct mail into a fund-raising behemoth that powered party gains for 20 years.

The 1992 Clinton campaign understood advertising via cable television. Clinton's advisers realized that instead of expensive commercials on the networks, they could target a cable ad buy right down to a Zip Code. They built an extremely sophisticated procurement system to buy ads with the greatest impact. This was consequential: Clinton is the only two-term U.S. President who never received a majority of the vote, and one could argue that instrumental to his victory was his campaign's understanding of technology.

Today, all candidates for high political office follow the Clinton cable TV playbook. In 2004, tech use by George W. Bush's campaign defined his reelection. Bush's advisers, including Rove, invested in better ways to reach voters in heavily Democratic areas. Precincts in inner cities and certain suburbs have traditionally been 70 percent to 80 percent pro-Democrat; Republican candidates wouldn't even campaign there. But the Bush campaign honed microtargeting to reach people who voted infrequently and who might be open to their message.

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