Two weeks before the 2016 election, Bloomberg’s Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg published a story about Trump’s brash, self-aggrandizing digital team. Democrats treated the story as evidence of the Trump campaign’s utter cluelessness, until he won.
For months after, coverage of Trump’s tech and digital strategy dominated headlines. Those stories had consequences: Facebook locked down its user data; Cambridge Analytica folded; and a wave of startups, including my own, emerged to help progressives mobilize online.
A change is coming to the Democratic Party, and for some campaigns, it’s already here. I’ve seen it firsthand. As part of my job I’ve personally visited dozens of the most competitive and best-staffed races in the country, giving me a unique perspective on the state of the party. With a few notable exceptions, like Obama’s campaigns, Democratic campaigns have treated digital media exclusively as a way to acquire new emails for fundraising lists and to advertise in the same way they do on TV. Digital media has been detached from the practice of “organizing” (i.e. direct voter contact). A handful of innovative House, Senate and governor’s campaigns are changing this.
These campaigns treat digital not just as a place to spam eyeballs, but as a space for organizing. The rest of the party would benefit from following their lead. In your own life, is it more meaningful to get a fundraising email and see an ad on Facebook, or to have a real conversation with someone you know?
These campaigns have made that switch by taking responsibility for engaging voters and volunteers online away from an isolated “digital” department and putting it at the core of their field team’s strategy.