On the Campaign Trail: Mobility and the Road to the White House

The tools of business mobility are transforming the election process in America, and presidential campaigns will never be the same. In fact, if the recent past is any guide, the candidate who best understands these tools will be the next president of the United States.

This should come as no big surprise. Mobility is already influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, from our workspace to our personal relations to our culture. And—in its non-stop travel, remote locations, and use of mobility technologies for virtually every aspect of its operations, management, and communications—the modern American presidential campaign provides a textbook example of business mobility in action.

On the Road and Online All the Time

For the candidates and their staff, campaigning means being on the road for nearly two years. Supporting each campaign during this time is a wide array of technologies that combines the latest innovations in Big Data with mobile devices to collect, aggregate, analyze, and distribute voter data. Campaigns are online—all the time—not only to compete successfully within a 24-hour news cycle, but also to reach as many voters as possible with nano-targeted messages (primarily delivered directly to voters’ email accounts) designed to garner support.  

The Tools of the Trade

The hard work of campaigning is designed to meet and persuade as many voters as possible to vote for a candidate. Mobility is dramatically changing how that process works. Both the Democratic (DNC) and Republican National Committees (RNC) employ vendors to create the networking infrastructure platforms for their presidential primary candidates and eventual presidential campaigns. These cloud platforms are fully mobile platforms, designed to deliver and be accessed in real time, while on the road, by any type of digital mobile device.

MiniVAN, a mobile app used by the Democratic party, allows door-to-door canvassers to collect information they gather on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, and then download and return that “walk sheet” without ever having to return to a campaign office. A web platform developed by President Obama’s campaign in 2012 gamifies volunteer activity by ranking the most active supporters. And another innovation from that campaign, “targeted sharing” protocols, data mines information from a supporter’s Facebook network, captured and collected by canvassers on their mobile devices, in search of new “friends” for the campaign to approach.

Using mobile devices to vastly accelerate the collection of voter data, campaigns then apply algorithms to that data to detect voter preferences. Combining this information with data from past voter registration records, purchased consumer information, and other online data sources, a campaign can collect as many as one thousand data points for each voter. According to the MIT Technology Review, using a mobility platform that integrated all these technologies for the first time, Obama’s 2012 campaign believed that by the time of the election—and despite the fact that every vote was cast as a “secret ballot”—it knew the names of every single one of the 69,456,897 Americans who had voted Obama into the White House four years earlier.

Mobility and the 2016 Election

It’s not just as a platform for collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data that mobility is so important to the modern American primary campaign. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly two-thirds of Americans now own a smartphone. At the time of the last election, only one out of three did. As many as 68 percent of these same smartphone users, according to that Pew survey, use their phones to follow the news. Due to its ubiquity, the smartphone is becoming the single most dominant target for campaign messaging as the presidential primary campaigns battle for votes across the country.  

Where just 10 years ago, a national campaign relied most heavily on TV ad buys to make its case, now campaign efforts are primarily concentrated in online advertising and social media. The economics of reaching a mass audience of potential voters through micro-targeted messaging to their mobile devices, via social media and various digital content platforms, allows less-funded and grassroots campaigns to vastly increase their reach.

From collecting and transmitting voter information on the fly, to nano-targeting voters with the message candidates hope will capture voter support, to providing the platform to translate the power and opportunity of Big Data, business mobility is the driving force transforming the American presidential campaign process. Whoever leverages this platform best will almost assuredly be their party’s candidate, and come November, the next president of the United States.