Political Strategy 2018: Harnessing partisanship and crampon tech
Political campaigning is changing. Cambridge Analytica “stealing” elections, presidential candidates using Twitter as their main media outlet, and, of course, a yawning gap in trust between the political establishment and the electorate. What’s a political organization to do?
Two things that struck me in recent weeks might be worth talking about. I should say, our company Ecanvasser, works across the political spectrum and in over 70 countries worldwide so we do get a very broad perspective on the way campaigns are run internationally. What we look for as a key moment in any campaign is the point at which traction is achieved. Whether it is the messaging delivered that just resonates with a section of voters or whether the grassroots organisation is simply building on its own efforts effectively, this point of traction indicates that a campaign is going well and is likely to reflect well at the polls.
Last year Jeremy Corbyn in the UK achieved a point of traction, Bernie Sanders did it in 2016, and Macron did it par excellence in France. It can be achieved most easily (and there are no easy campaigns) by harnessing partisanship or by using crampon tech. Let me explain.
The US political landscape is highly dysfunctional and leading to extreme polarisation of political views. Symptoms of this include the normalisation of the Trump presidency, an absence of unbiased journalism, and sorry episodes like the separation of children from their families in refugee detention centres this month.
However, the US is undergoing an unprecedented engagement with politics and political activism because of this polarisation. Partisanship, the sense that your “values” are only going to be represented by one side of a political spectrum from liberal to conservative, is actually a huge motivator to action for voters. In the US, particularly on the progressive side, people of all ages and hues are flocking to grassroots organisations to make their voice heard and to feel that they are defending their values against an aggressive opponent. While you might not wish to replicate that type of political climate, it can be useful, as a political party, to think about motivating the party base and membership in this way. It can also be useful to think about motivating all voters, supporters, swing voters, and so on by using messaging that taps into partisan ideas.
Far from being an underhand tactic or appealing to base motives, partisanship, the idea that values are represented and advocated for by a clear party proposition to the electorate, is actually more or less what you are supposed to be doing! If ever there was a time to say to the electorate that their values are under attack and your party is the one to defend them, then surely now is that time?
How partisan messaging can be developed is the difficult question, but above all else, what works in campaigns the world over is a clear proposition and a strong call to action using partisanship as inspiration.
Secondly, and this is a quiet revolution that has been ongoing for quite a while now, is the concept of “crampon tech”. Political technology has been the preserve of US firms to-date, with elaborate voter data easily available to anyone willing to pay for it. The tech itself has been developing slowly -- and not without its glitches -- to try to replicate and mirror the types of processes that campaigns have always been involved in, things like data manangement, canvassing, email, telephone calls and casework. The genius of this type of tech was perhaps best represented by Obama’s 2012 campaign where every point of contact with voters was meticulously captured and used. Data captured on phones or on doorsteps were converted into data analysis or into voter pledges. In this way nothing was lost, nothing was wasted, and the efficiency employed by millions of volunteers (inspired by partisan fear) resulted in brilliant campaign messaging and pledges converted into the hard currency of votes cast.
This is crampon tech. The idea that you build on every interaction, you never slip back down the mountain because you are using pen and paper and you simply aren’t tracking the information gathered sufficiently well. To extend the mountaineering analogy, you need to be wearing crampons and you also need to be lashed together with rope to your sister constituencies so that when the wind blows around election time, every constituency is working off the same system and learning together, making them stronger and more capable of building momentum.
Crampon tech is what is very much in vogue in partisan America today. Grassroots movements like #indivisible flourish under partisan conditions and then they use technology like Van, or Ecanvasser, or NationBuilder to ensure that no conversations are wasted, that constituency operatives can learn from each other, and that the intelligence is built within the party infrastructure over time.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) grouping understands the power of crampon tech and is getting behind this type of technology to assist its sister parties across Europe build their digital infrastructures. Post-GDPR campaigning is going to be a stricter environment for data capture and storage, so tech companies are going to become an increasing necessity for parties if they are to avoid reputational damage from data breaches or data mismanagement.
Campaigns are changing. It’s a tougher world and a lot is at stake, maybe too much to sit back and just let politics happen. If you would like to learn more about how to use tech to build your political strategy why not fill out the form below?
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