Subject matter such as political campaigning is pretty niche, we all know this. This being said, it's a space occupied by some of the brightest, most enthusiastic people you could find. People who continuously push to the forefront of this industry are the ones that you're going to want to pay attention to - they've usually got the most to share!
I recently caught up with one of these such people; Sebastian Rodriguez, one of the minds behind Rollout Democracy, a consulting firm in the UK that is dedicated to helping pro-EU political organisations implement cutting-edge technologies for thier campaigns. Sebastian helped me dissect the political landscape in Europe for 2018.
Thinking about the European landscape for 2018, are there any elections you would be keen on getting involved in?
In Europe, there are three type of elections where I´d love to get involved. Firstly, one taking place in a democratic country where political parties and candidates will have to face a surge in populism and Euroscepticism. This type of election usually becomes a two-horse race (open vs closed, integration vs isolation, etc.) and it would be very interesting to see how each candidate will convey this message to voters. The country I was thinking this year is, undoubtedly, Italy, where Italians will vote at a general election in early 2018.
The second type would be an election taking place in an authoritarian country ruled by oligarchs and cronies. What would normally be at stake in this type of election is not only the well-being of the country´s oppressed citizens but also the survival of the liberal order on which the world´s stability and peace have relied upon over the last decades. Getting involved in an election like this in 2018 will not only be dangerous but also practically impossible, as doing so will probably make you go to jail. The election in Russia, where Putin will comfortably seek re-election, will take place in a context of political oppression, with political rivals like Alexei Navalny in jail and critical media being silenced.
And, lastly, I would like to get a call from a client overnight announcing that there´s snap election to be fought in a matter of weeks. In this type of elections, the excitement and the improvisation would make messages more genuine and candidates less scripted. If one remembers the UK´s GE in 2017, it brought us “Maybot¨and her Strong and Stable message but it also brought us ¨Oh, Jeremy Corbyn¨, a song at Glastonbury. If I had to guess the country that will see a snap election, then it would be the country I come from, Spain, with either an election for the regional parliament of Catalonia or, least likely, a General Election.
What is your opinion of the ongoing Brexit saga?
Having lived in the UK for the last 6 years and been active during the referendum campaign, my feeling is that, for the first time, the country is having a debate about what it means to leave the European Union, what are the trade-offs, and whether it is the right thing to do. Having said that, I don't think the country has yet changed its mind, but it may well do so during 2018, which is the critical year for Brexit negotiations. I think the British public deserved to have this discussion before June 23rd, 2016, rather than debating about non-relevant issues such as the shape of bananas.
Populism played a large part in European politics at the end of 2017, do you see this continuing to grow legs in 2018?
I am afraid I do see populism as a continuous theme in European politics. The reason is simple: the underlying causes that have led a certain type of voters to trust populists have hardly been addressed by politicians and public policy. I am referring to inequality, the collapse of the so-called social contract, the speed at which globalization has transformed communities - some for the better and others for the worse - the lack of training in new skills and opportunities for the youth, or the digital divide between the young and the not-so-young, to name a few.
As long as politicians and governments do not empathize with these voters and start addressing some of these causes, the vacuum will continue being filled by populists. There is a very interesting book, called ¨The Road to Somewhere¨ from British journalist David Goodhart which I think explains very clearly what the problem is in the UK, the US, and Europe, and where he calls for political parties to practice what he describes as a ¨decent populism¨. A good read if you are a cosmopolitan, liberal chap.
What gave you the inspiration to found Rollout Democracy
Well, politics is my passion and technology is the field where I had built my consulting career. Rollout Democracy is the intersection of what I was good at and what I really love to do. The inspiration came, undoubtedly, on June 24th, 2016, the day after the Brexit referendum.
At that time, I realized that the campaigns I deeply cared about were being outsmarted by their rivals when it came to implementing cutting-edge technology and running data-driven campaigns. This is why our vision is to put pro-European Union political organizations on the cutting edge of the digital age, by providing them with technology and strategy consulting services so that they can fight for the values upon which the EU was founded: democracy, respect for human rights, equality, and peace.
GDPR is obviously coming in May, how do you see this affecting political parties in Europe this year? In your opinion, are they prepared?
I think GDPR is the single most important challenge political parties and campaigners will face in 2018. I see an opportunity here for organizations to become more efficient running their campaigns by centralizing all their data and operations into a reduced number of platforms that are GDPR-compliant, such as Ecanvasser. It is impossible to say whether political parties in Europe are ready or not, but if you take surveys done with NGOs, they show that less than one third are fully prepared. In my view, that proportion might be even lower amongst political parties. There´s a lot of work to do on this front.
Find out more about Rollout Democracy here.