Leading the Push into Digital Campaigning
Traditional campaigns and outside organizations pour millions into television ads, flooding airwaves with positive and negative ads that the highest paid consultants claim sway and mobilize voters. But campaign and political science research casts doubt on the ability for such ads to actually have a lasting effect on the electorate: Ads rarely have more than a week-long effect – sometimes, depending on campaign intensity, not even that. Furthermore, such ads are not highly tailored. Though campaigns claim that big data’s advent allows them to micro-target, the sheer number of individuals watching (or not watching, be it as it may) a given show at a given time renders these ads too broad in scope and with too low a return on investment. That’s why some organizations are moving away from this traditional campaign method.
Progressives for Prosperity is one such organization. Founded in 2012, the group has experienced a recent rebirth. According to its data releases, the group reached more than 10 million voters in the 11 months before election day, all while spending less than $50 on paid media. Since the election, when it’s doubled down on digital investment and technological development, that number has almost tripled. The super PAC primarily uses Twitter to reach voters – Twitter, so their president claims, has an “active community of dedicated and passionate individuals who want to make a difference. By providing a centralized hub for persuasion and mobilization, we can inspire widespread action and political engagement.”
The organization has no large donors. Its funds, altogether insignificant, come directly from the grassroots. So far, no donor has given more than $200, a point of pride for the organization as it remains one of the few super PACs that doesn’t “kowtow to the desires of its financial benefactor.” Donated money, according to Federal Election Commission filings, goes to Twitter ads, though the organization hopes to move into Facebook soon. Why? Because doing so “allows us to become part of the voters’ digital lives. Facebook and Twitter have dedicated user-bases and, through the platforms’ tools, we can micro-target voters based on any number of desired demographics.”
They have a point – Twitter and Facebook have hundreds of millions of users that use the social media sites every day. And many are activists looking to become further involved in political activity. Progressives for Prosperity hopes to reach more and more of those voters through its technological developments. Coders at the group have developed tools to identify, log, and match with other available data – such as vote history and the demographics of their place of residence – with social media users, creating what they hope will be a robust data list that can then be used for persuasion and mobilization.
What’s next for the group? They’re targeting Georgia’s upcoming special election as its first means of testing its methods and harnessing backlash to President Donald Trump. It’s finalizing its list of district voters, readying for campaign mobilization that it hopes to “open-source” to other social media users living outside the district but hoping to make competitive a House seat in whose district Hillary Clinton lost by only one percentage point. Whether they will be successful remains to be determined, but they have high hopes. “We plan to reach tens of thousands of voters in the run up to the election with both persuasion and mobilization messages. We also hope to determine a method for gauging our electoral efficacy so we can make amends and changes as we head into the 2017 gubernatorial elections.”
Even if the organization fails to flip the seat, its conclusions from the election will be quite interesting and will hopefully shed light into how campaigns and other organizations can better harness the online world to sway voters and drive them to the polls. It’s a new world and Progressives for Prosperity hopes to lead the charge into it.