Magazine article Campaigns & Elections

Down-Ballot Campaigns Are Going Digital

Magazine article Campaigns & Elections

Down-Ballot Campaigns Are Going Digital

Article excerpt


Over the past few weeks, I've been struck several times by thae growing sophistication of down-ballot campaigns when it comes to online campaigning. I recently got a demo from NGP VAN of their tools for managing email and online fundraising for congressional, state legislative and other candidates. As we went along, I kept hearing that their clients were demanding advanced options that used to be the preserve of presidential and other national-level campaigns.

For instance, NGP VAN tools now have built-in options for A/B/C, etc. testing of emails, allowing campaigns to try subject lines and other variables on sub-sets of their main email lists, and then easily pick the "winning" version and send it to the rest of their supporters. Another requested feature: the ability for campaigns to customize their data model to match their needs, particularly for fundraising-related data mining. The takeaway: Down-ballot campaigners are really using data, and they want advanced options for tracking and using information about voters, supporters and donors.

Another example: the recent race for an at-large city council seat in the District of Columbia, which saw a candidate using geo-targeted Google content ads to send potential voters to his NationBuilder site. That site then recruited them to follow the campaign via email and social media channels. Another candidate in the same race (a low-turnout special election to fill a vacant seat) employed voter data to identify and contact the people he hoped would lead him to victory. Both were defeated by a candidate who in part credited geo-targeted robocalls (with different surrogates depending on the neighborhood) for her victory.

Note that the data-mining D.C. candidate was a Republican, a sign that these developments are cross-party. And check out the recent National Journal coverage of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's attempts to create an Obama-style data-driven campaign- a model he hopes to export to other Republicans.

Finally, and this is more subjective, at April's CampaignTech conference, the overall level of conversation in the halls felt higher than at most online politics conferences I've been to- and I've been going to conferences covering online politics since 1997. It's a fascinating process to watch: Digital politics used to be perceived as a game for the big campaigns, but not any longer. Campaigns at all levels are becoming aware of the tools and are putting them to work.


While I was heading to that tech overview at NGP VAN, I actually stumbled onto another great example of the competitiveness of the contemporary campaign technology world. As per usual, I couldn't remember the company's address, so I Googled it on the way. Lo and behold, a Blue State Digital search ad popped up, with this text:

Blue State Digital - BlueStateDigital. …

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