Lost in all the punditries of 2012 about which groups helped win the presidency in our evolving electorate, we are missing the importance of not just the changing demographics, but a seismic shift in how Americans digest news and information.
In a few short years, mobile technology has become the most important change in how we consume political information. According to this year's Pew study, 46 percent of African-Americans and 40 percent of Hispanics do not have access to the Internet at home, but according to Neilsen research, both African-Americans & Hispanic populations are the highest users of text messaging, mobile apps and the mobile web.
So while there have been hundreds of articles about how social media was used this year, very few of them mention the fact that half of this social media traffic is actually coming from mobile phones. Even for those getting their news from traditional television, Google's research explains that most of these Americans are now consuming this programming while engaging with a third screen at the same time (checking email on their phone, surfing the web on a tablet, etc.).
Additionally, over 61 percent of Americans are getting their news from these smaller devices via the mobile web and through mobile apps. Pew confirms that this trend will keep increasing by stating that over 81 percent of Americans now have a cell phone. So it's simply a matter of time until more of this population learns how to use the mobile web on the phone they already own.
Therefore, all future political campaigns, on every level of politics, will need to focus on mobile communications. This means that they will not only have to think about how email displays on a mobile phone, but also make sure their websites are mobile friendly. They will need to think more about how busy their target audience is while watching these political ads on very small screens. Campaigns need to understand that their news is being spread at 140 characters at a time and their videos are being consumed at 15-second intervals instead of 60-second intervals.
In 2007, I had the honor to launch Barack Obama's text message program on a shoestring budget, with a few ringtones that were mixed on a friend's laptop. I was using the campaign's Blackberry at the time, but bought my own personal iPhone as it became clear that Apple's newest product offering was revolutionizing the future of mobile communications. That campaign was just starting to understand the importance of basic text messaging; this campaign we were able to exact target & geo-fence specific bus routes in Southern California to saturate only Spanish-speaking workers with rich-media persuasion advertisements during their daily commute and uninterrupted personal phone time.
Today mobile technology is incorporated into every piece of the political landscape. Several national political campaigns organized canvassing and phone banking programs through mobile friendly web apps. There was even an election protection app that used your phone's camera and GPS to quickly report problems with voting directly to the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights. Political fundraising evolved this cycle through mobile card swipe technology like Square for faster processing of payments. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) finally approved political contributions via text message as the start of a new channel for political payments. We also saw rapid response evolve this cycle as text alerts and push notifications were sent out as talking points and fact checks during the presidential debates before the debates were even finished. Campaign supporters will continue to expect talking points and announcements to be delivered faster and more direct.
Think about it, those 18-24 year olds in 2007 will be 27-33 years old and voting in their third election in 2016. Mobile organizing will no longer be about the youth vote, but about how the majority of society gets its news and information. These young voters will now be contributors to campaigns, and will not be happy if they can't sign up to volunteer, quickly donate or simply find the closest campaign headquarters using their phone's GPS and mapping software.
Politics needs to adapt with these changing times or suffer the consequences of ignoring this important channel. Change does not come easy to a system that heavily favors list segmentation by precinct for direct mail and easily packaged designated marketing areas (DMA) for TV saturation. But people no longer consume news from just within their homes so why would we continue to target them in only one geographical location? This rise of people watching their favorite shows on Netflix & Hulu from their phones and tablets is a profound change. Therefore, all future campaigns need to better understand how to communicate to a society that is no longer sitting at home, does not like answering phone calls on their landline and may not even own a landline. Remember, all politics is mobile!
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