Transforming Election Campaigning in the Digital Age

November 10, 2016

With the current digital age, political institutions, activities and relationships are increasingly mediated and shaped by digital media and technologies. The increasing use of these technologies is set to alter traditional campaigning models. It should be of use for any political party or politician in established democracies.

 The case for change

Many agree that digital technologies are transforming politics. They disagree, however, about the significance and character of that transformation. Utopian accounts predict the digital transformation of political life, with peer production and online networks enhancing political participation and technological innovation driving policy change.

However, there is little overall evidence that digital is changing the outcome of elections in any revolutionary way. It is argued that we can see an emerging body of evidence of transformation in cases where the use of digital has made all the difference in a campaign. Political parties and politicians that pay attention to these trends will likely be able to find increased advantages in the competition for voter attention and commitment.

Some key insights supporting the case for change are:

  • With currently only 10% of a campaign’s budget typically being spent on digital media compared to the time that people are spending online, the push towards digital technology is only going to increase in political campaigns.  Those who are adapting to the new and emerging media and technologies will be the digital winners.
  • Citizens voice their dissatisfaction through digital media. But there is a reverse side to the picture, with the possibility to translate societal demands into electoral actions with the help of digital media.
  • Voter frustration is not necessarily caused by their dislike for policies, but it is certainly provoked by their dislike for the method used to develop such policies. Digital provides an opportunity to change that method.
  • While much political information is generated between elections, it is during electoral campaigns that the information becomes visible. But there is little scientifically proven evidence of the effect of campaigns on voters. Citizen-initiated digital and offline campaigning offer parties the chance to rebuild deeper connections into their local communities.
  • Digital lowers the costs of a) communications and allows political organizations to communicate more information to more members at a fixed cost; b) search costs and allows individuals to find the organizations that advance their interests; c) certain kinds of political action such as donating money to organizations and signing letters and petitions.

Digital age and US 2016 Election

Mobile devices were the source of data aggregation used by campaigns. They have been used to target and communicate with voters directly. Voice meeting services like Tele-Town Hall have quietly become more and more important to campaigns and policy-makers alike. Tele-Town Hall allows candidates to hold large town hall-style meetings with constituents. Some calls exceed 500 people, and allow voters to directly interact by asking questions and speaking directly with candidates, and providing instant touch-tone feedback on policy issues.

Applications, particularly iOS apps, are crucial in terms of activating potential voters. iOS is easy for small teams to build cost-effective applications that reach a somewhat-affluent demographic.

The Cruz campaign used a customised suite of apps called uCampaign that helped local candidates, operatives, and grassroots organizations run campaigns and organize supporters. The Cruz mobile application gamified user support. The app rewarded users with points and achievements for providing access to personal information, address book contacts, attending events, and canvassing—door knocking—for the candidate.

The 2016 Clinton campaign also emerged as a digital powerhouse. Clinton’s policy messaging, timing and content were crafted by in-house digital experts who communicated directly with millennial voters using a suite of social applications, including Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify.

The digital arms race

Over the past decade, political discussions have migrated from water coolers and dinner tables to smartphones and social media. Here are just some of the ways technology has dramatically changed the race for the presidency in a short period of time:

  1. Social influence

Twitter and Facebook have transformed the way candidates interact with their constituencies. Ten years ago, campaigns were drastically different.

  1. Threat of virality

During an election, candidates are always under the microscope, but new technology allows the media to watch them more closely. Social media runs in real time and with the variety of channels, from Twitter to YouTube, candidates’ words are replayed, dissected and played again. Once something hits the web, it stays there forever.

Candidates now need to live under the assumption there is always someone with a smartphone, camera, microphone or other recording device capturing their actions to share with the world. While this constant monitoring of candidate activity has brought more transparency to elections, it has also brought more sensationalism and often reduced political coverage to paparazzi-style reporting.

Nothing is off limits. Candidates’ family members are targeted on social media, and their words and actions are turned into memes to live on in infamy.


  1. Smarter campaigns

Candidates always relied on polls to give them insights on where they stand with the public and what they should change about their campaigns.

With the rise of big data and analytics, candidates can now understand much more deeply what’s working and what’s not in their campaigns. With this information, campaigns become more effective and can be tailored to garner the votes, funds or public opinion needed from a particular region or constituency.

  1. New issues

Technology itself brings new issues to the debate floor that candidates must know about, speak about and take a position on. Topics such as net neutrality and cybersecurity are important to constituents, and candidates need to be informed.

In addition, candidates need to keep up to date with technology, otherwise they will be viewed as outdated and irrelevant. Candidates who don’t use Twitter, for example, won’t be taken seriously.

The more in touch candidates are with technology, the more people they will reach. Understanding new technologies and trends is now a key part of connecting with voters and running a successful campaign.

Digital technologies therefore offer the chance for individualized, tailored, accelerated and more effective strategy for businesses. If you want to know about the power of digital transformation, Anglo African team can help you,  do contact Naazreen on 2331636 or via e-mail at


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