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Summary:

Another election year is nearly upon us, and if the past is any lesson, new uses of technology will impact the outcome in many new and unpredictable ways.

Voting Booth
photo: Image courtesy of Flickr user Lower Columbia College

Voting Booth

Another presidential election year is a month away, and just as with every election cycle, technology will play a critical role in determining who the next President of the United States will be.

Have your doubts? Just look at the last two elections.

In 2004, the rise of blogs opened the door to an influential new source of political commentary outside the traditional press,while in 2008, we witnessed the rapid rise of social media (and the Obama campaign’s early embrace of it), which played a big role in dissemination of messaging as well as fundraising.

In both elections, the growth of online video proved important; 2004 saw mainly short-form political entertainment/commentary from the likes of JibJab, but by 2008 both parties saw online video as a real competitive weapon, and YouTube became the testing ground in efforts to find a “Daisy”-like message to sway voters.

Just how will technology be part of the story in the 2012 election?  Here are four possible ways:

Mobile

Since money is, for better and for worse, the lifeblood of American election politics, it seems there are always new ways to utilize technology to raise money.  Just a few years ago, it was novel to have a website as a central way to raise money for an election on the Internet, and more recently, social media has become an important part of fundraising for any campaign.

So what technology could play an important role in fundraising in 2012?  The simple answer is the mobile phone. We’ve already seen Square being used at political fundraisers and multipurpose mobile apps like Mobilecause for fundraising and communication, and as I’ve written previously,  there’s no reason in-app payments couldn’t be extended to apps such as enhanced e-books.  Expect all the major candidates to make mobile a big part of their fundraising and messaging efforts throughout the year.

Twitter Mistakes

If 2008 was the year Facebook wagged the dog in terms of social media’s impact on politics, 2012 might be the year in which Twitter could prove decisive.  Over the past few years, Twitter has become the new real-time newswire for influencers and the media, and it has emerged as a way for candidates to connect directly to constituents without the filter of campaign managers and media experts.

However, Twitter has also shown why a filter is sometimes necessary.  The unfortunately (and appropriately) named Congressman Anthony Weiner got his own “gate” as a result of accidentally tweeting lewd photos of himself, and other politicians in the States and elsewhere have shown it’s all too easy to hit that tweet button.

With more politicians tweeting and at greater frequency, there’s no doubt Twitter could play a big role in 2012, and in possibly unforeseen and unwanted ways.

Big Data Analytics

While Facebook proved significant in 2008 as a way to build a following for a candidate, it was early days for social media and big data analytics in general. Four years later, it is likely savvy use of analytics by a candidate to sift through the mountains of data made available through social, mobile and other types of profiling and behavioral data could give them a significant advantage over their opponent.  Political campaigns have already proven themselves to be  fairly advanced users of polling analytics and there is no doubt that campaigns will only double down this election cycle on data scientists to possibly squeeze more advantages out of the huge cache of new data available from a variety of new sources.

Internet activism

In 2010 and 2011, one of the biggest political stories of all had nothing to do with traditional political establishments, but instead was about the rise of a new form of political activism on the Internet.  Wikileaks showed how by releasing huge caches of documents about political actors online could destabilize traditional political establishments, while new groups such as Anonymous showed that the Internet is the new frontier for civil disobedience.

How will the use of Internet political activism take shape in 2012?  It’s impossible to predict at this point, other than to say there’s a high likelihood that new and existing groups will likely try to make their voices heard in new and unforeseen ways, making this new frontier of Internet activism perhaps the biggest x-factor of all in next year’s Presidential election.

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