Can 4,500 tech volunteers help Democrats go digital?

To win, Democrats need to understand the importance of digital campaigns and allocate more of their campaign's budget to digital marketing
16 July 2018

A session at the Virginia House of Delegates. Source: Wikimedia

Recently, American citizens have woken up to the reality that politicians are using technology in new and interesting ways to influence the masses before elections.

While the scale and degree of digital interference in the past presidential election might have been enormous, experts speculate that every election in the country since at least 2010 has used some form of technology to sway voters.

And overall, it seems as though Democrats have been losing out since many candidates have failed to add technology-driven solutions to their arsenal and to their campaign’s strategy.

It’s why 3 tech-entrepreneurs Jessica Alter, Peter Kazanjy, and Ian Ferguson decided to build a network of leading-edge tech volunteers who could help drag Democrats into the digital era.

The founders of the network, now called Tech for Campaigns, now has more than 4,500 volunteers and aim to give political candidates access to a caliber of digital talent that is hard to come by, especially in state and other down-ballot races.

“Over the last decade, even as Democrats won at the federal level, they lost serious ground at the state level: Over 900 individual seats and control of 39 state government bodies were lost over the last four election cycles,” cited the body’s page.

State legislatures decide how federal and state districts are drawn and control the destiny of legislation on major topics from healthcare to education to equal rights.

However, the state races raise relatively little money and struggle to get attention from campaign professionals. As a result, Tech for Campaigns has decided to focus “especially but not exclusively” on state legislatures and winning back control (for the Democrats).

“In order to reverse gerrymandering, implement progressive policies, and help “flip the House,” we must start with the winning back control of the states,” said Tech for Campaigns.

One of the group’s biggest tasks, Alter told the New York Times (NYT), is persuading candidates to campaign heavily on social media, rather than relying solely on TV ads and printed mailers.

According to political consultants the NYT consulted, many Democrats running in 2018 are spending a much smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus more than 40 percent for Republicans.

Alter, a Harvard MBA, hopes that her team is able to support 200 campaigns by the end of the year, especially state-level candidates who find it hard to secure a digital advertising budget.

So far, according to the NYT, Tech for Campaigns has advised Democrats in about 60 races since it started, including Justin Nelson, who is running for attorney general in Texas, and Rob Quist, who was narrowly defeated in a special congressional election in Montana last year.

While all of this sounds exciting and interesting, the fact is, Tech for Campaigns is really making a difference.

Take Chris Hurst, for example. Hurst, a first-time politician who was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates in November, received significant support from Tech for Campaigns.

According to the NYT, the group redid his website, tweaked his online ads, and coordinated a mass texting campaign to get out the vote.

As a result, Hurst defeated his Republican opponent by eight points.

“I know, 100 percent, that they [Tech for Campaigns] made a difference in our campaign. I was very surprised these Silicon Valley folks were willing to donate their time like that,” Andrew Whitley, Hurst’s campaign manager told the New York Times.