Mobile Voters and the 2016 US Presidential Election

With the United States 2016 presidential election campaign beginning to reach full steam, American’s are slated to experience an election more dominated by mobile devices than any other in history. In a recent feature, CNN christened mobile phones as the “next political battleground.” It is easy to see why, with the Pew Research Center reporting that as many as 91% of American’s use some form of mobile phone, and 61% owning a smart phone.

The impact of mobile devices on the election is already being felt in numerous ways. Mobile devices are used both by politicians and by voters to become more engaged and involved in the election, to raise awareness and to track public opinion. Already, the proliferation of mobile technologies has had an impact on the democratic process in countries across the world. Yet with so many people so connected in America, and with so much at stake in a presidential election, we are likely to see the mobile take on unprecedented importance in the 2016 election.

The Many Facets of Mobile Political Impact

In the 2008 and 2012 United State’s elections we already seen how candidates could make use of social networking and mobile technology to increase awareness of their campaigns. Mobile technologies have been used to organize political rallies and efforts, to connect groups of supporters together across social media and other networks. Mobile devices also allowed for better data collection, as voters were able to better communicate their opinion’s in surveys and similar data collection efforts made more accessible by the proliferation of mobile devices across the country.

While in the past elections candidates already demonstrated the importance of social networks like Facebook in reaching out to voters, the 2016 election has already in its earliest stages shown that social media is one of the most dominant forces being used to reach potential voters. Every candidate can be found across the whole spectrum of social media sites, from Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat and everything in between. Seeking out any possible way to engage more American’s, diligent campaign managers have tapped into every vein of outreach possibility, with the result being a huge competition for real estate on American mobile devices. Every Presidential candidate is sure to be represented on every available social network.

Targeted Advertising and Messaging

An often controversial facet of online advertising is the ability for these ads to collect data about the user and then serve up customized ads which target the interests of the user. Data can include everything from geolocation information, to personal information or web browsing history. We are already seeing such tactics applied to the 2016 election, with campaigns making use of data collection to target ads which emphasize particular issues likely to be important to viewers as determined by their other interests.

In 2012, such tactics were used during a dispute by Goodstein Revolution Messaging to send messages specifically targeted to Spanish speakers who were identified via geolocation to take certain bus routes. These messages represent the apex of the sort of incredibly targeted advertising or messaging services which campaigns can put to use in order to get their agendas in front of those voters who find their key issues most relevant.

Drawing the Line

Technologies like targeted advertising can easily fall off the slippery slope and be deemed overreaching or breaches in privacy. Similarly, with so many opportunities to reach voters via social networks and advertising, campaign managers will have to be careful to toe the line between advertising and spam. It is now more of a risk than ever for a candidate to over saturate their advertising mediums, turning their attempts to raise awareness into an annoying nuisance for users sick of looking at their ads.

It could very well be that the candidate most capable of effectively wielding these technologies to raise awareness and discuss their key issues with the people most interested in hearing about them is the same candidate who takes the White House. If used properly, mobile and internet technologies will be 2016 presidential candidates’ best tools, yet if mismanaged could lead to a poorly executed and annoying strategy which does more to drive away potential voters than to properly inform. We may also see new innovations in ways to use mobile technology to raise awareness completely unexpected which help to influence the landscape as we move forwards towards the November 2016 election.

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