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A Year In Headlines: Looking Back At 2018

It's been one heck of a year, politics DID.NOT.STOP.

2018 produced some of of the most talked about political stories we've seen in years, our team at Ecanvasser picked our top moments and topics that have been trending all year. Check them all about below!

Video is a powerful communication device

Video has just become more and more powerful as a way of communicating a political candidacy to a wide audience. We have always advocated using storytelling as the delivery method for political messaging but we have seen a few great examples this year. Enjoy.

Funding wins elections - JB Pritzker

A long read about the JB Pritzker gubernatorial campaign in Illinois is interesting in the context of the usual debate about the influence of money in political campaigns. That the billionaire Pritzker was able to bankroll the most expensive state race in history himself avoided much of the usual recrimination around how money can buy elections. Perhaps an good outside bet for a Democratic challenger to Trump in 2020? Check the full article out here.

You can’t beat the gerrymander

In the US midterm elections the Democrats ended up 54% of the vote share and 234 seats in Congress. Compare this to the 53% vote share won by the Republicans in 2014 with the 247 seats they won. Clearly gerrymandering is continuing to have an influence on the allocation of seats in parliaments. There have been moves in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah this year to take back control of redistricting commissions but the progress is slow and it is clear that the US election system does have some serious structural defects. The fact that two presidential elections have been won with a lower share of the popular vote also tells its tale and, taken together, these issues do contribute to an undermining of trust in the election system as a whole.

GDPR and Cambridge Analytica

The most important story of 2018 for politics in Europe was GDPR (whether politicians are willing to face up to it or not!). As a result of all the conversation around data protection of voters the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2017 continued to rumble on. Fears around the fragility of elections and the influence of outside actors in election campaigns, particularly on social media, were addressed and re-addressed. Much of this worry has been dealt with by the arrival of GDPR legislation. Now political parties and politicians running for election need to be very careful about what data they hold on voters and what data they use to try to target voters. If any party is found to be in breach of the legislation they will be looking at very significant fines from their data protection authority, as well as a withdrawal of funding from the European Commission, and reputational damage. Not to be taken lightly.

EU local voters

Everywhere around the EU the talk is moving towards the European elections in May 2019. Having felt the shock of Brexit the EU is fighting to communicate the value of the European project outside of Brussels. The recurring issue is communicating with local voters. European political parties are looking at ways to become more relevant and to make sure people in every part of Europe understand what the EU gives them, and what the future direction of the project is.

Gamification and increasing digital tools usage

Like it or not, politicians and political parties are turning to digital tools with gamification elements built into them to try to drive supporter activation. Canvassing apps, phone banking, peer-to-peer referral tools are all commonplace in modern political campaigns. To help with engaging supporters and keeping them hooked on campaigning, so to speak, digital tools providers are including things like scoreboards for campaign operatives to see who hits the most doors or calls the most voters. Having elements like digital rewards in the form of tokens or medals for top performers are becoming more commonplace. And, of course, functionality to allow campaign volunteers easily post their achievements and work directly to social media for their own network to see what they are doing, is highly effective at keeping people interested. This trend is only likely to increase and we are asked for this type of functionality by campaigners all around the world.

Precarious job prospects

The midterm elections in the US saw a huge level of engagement and activism to fight for control of Congress and the Senate. The flip side of this, as highlighted by the New York Times, was that 20,000 campaign operatives find themselves out of work after the election. This is a recurring issue for anyone who is interested in working in politics and the barriers to entry ensure that it remains the preserve of young people predominantly. The other downside to the cyclical nature of political campaigning is that the intelligence built up in campaign teams disappears if campaign operatives have to go work in Costco every November without any prospect of a job in politics until the following year.

Partisanship

Partisanship is clearly showing itself to be a major structural problem for large democracies like the US and UK, with divided electorates finding it difficult to square away the views of the other side of the aisle. Two party systems or systems that are dominated by two parties seem to be having a similar fracture happen within their media landscape. This is best evidenced in the US with media outlets at a national level being ascribed partisan positions thereby solidifying the culture even more. The term ‘echo chamber’ has been used a lot this year to describe how we as individuals and citizens can be influenced by what we are hearing on repeat. Reinforcing these divisions through traditional media and social media only aims to further divide instead of pulling people together.

Local races need strategy + tools

We have often spoken in these pages about how the best national campaigns mimic the organization and relationship building of local races. Big election races are really just that, big, but no different in any other meaningful way from local races. So, it figures then that all the strategy and campaign tools that go into a winning campaign at the state or national level are also required by local campaigns. Here is what we have seen this year. Local candidates and campaign managers want what everyone else has. They want sophisticated digital ad spend and delivery, they want great social media strategy, they want brilliant insights into demographics and campaign activity from day one, and they want the same tools like Nationbuilder, Ecanvasser, Voter Circle and so on. And they are getting them as tools are becoming more and more affordable certainly on short cycle campaigns where the spend may take place only over 4-6 months. Watch this space in 2020 as local campaign operatives move up to the larger races and bring their knowledge with them.

We have really loved doing our potted history review of 2018 but would love to hear what you think we the stand-out themes or events. Let us know in the chat box and we will put together a People’s Choice re-review in the next few weeks!

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