The winds of change are blowing through the Republican Party in Texas. The national election failures of the past two cycles reveal not only the determination and zeal of grassroots Democrats, but also an entrenched resistance by many Republican insiders toward embracing the new media environment, whether that entails social media communications strategies, or interactive web platforms like YouTube and Facebook. As November approaches, local Republicans are taking the proverbial bull by the horns.
President Obama understands “big data.” His use of cell phone data to reach new voters and mobilize support is ill-understood by the Republican Party. In one widely deployed technique, the Obama campaign would run TV ads imploring Americans, “to contribute $10 to Obama for America, text GIVE to 62262.” This cell phone data was then collected, and these numbers could be targeted with personalized campaign messages from President Obama. Fact: Obama spent $47 million on social media. Romney? $4.7 million.
Saturation equals control. Obama saturates every communication platform with his message.
The Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) of Houston,TX — arguably the nexus of revolutionary changes in the conduct of elections — claims that better communication, not “giving away the store”–is the key to victory in future elections. Said Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill,
“Republicans must start emulating the best practices of their enemies, instead of complaining that what is, should not be.”
“The message is not the problem; communication is the problem,” stated Woodfill, as he announced the debut of a new comprehensive voter database and outreach tool called rVotes.
RVotes is a modified version of Voter Activation Network (VAN) used by the Democrats in the last few election cycles to maximize voter output. The inventor of rVotes, Steve Adler, also built the Voter Activation Network (VAN). After a falling out with his partner, and now that his noncompete has expired, he would like to help Republicans.
Since Houston is now the third largest city in the US, passing Chicago in growth and total area, the ability to act independently is viewed by some ‘old guard’ Republicans in Texas and at the national level as a negative. State-level leadership is admittedly waiting for Karl Rove’s “solution.”
Houston Republican factions do not believe there is time to wait for one “silver bullet” solution that may fail, and instead are encouraging competition. Houston has at least three major competing ‘open source’ data platforms for use as voter organizing tools, including ABCVoterContact and Rvotes.
Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill is attempting to make Texas the center of data-driven innovation, in spite of other state-level Party leaders wanting to “wait.”
“The same technology used by the Democrats in the last two cycles at the national level is now in the possession of Harris County GOP. Waiting for ‘solutions’ from state and national party officials when we already have a nuclear option is not good strategy. We will do what needs to be done to keep Harris County red. And that is what the local GOP can expect from my leadership.”
The essence of the newfound embrace of technology in Houston can be explained thusly:
If Republicans fall over themselves to agree with the Democrats, why are they needed? What alternative are Republicans offering? Attempting to imitate the Democrats results in election failures. Communicating our message more effectively and with the latest and most current outreach technology results in election wins.
Building on the experience of 2008 and 2012, Republicans have a unique opportunity to amplify and perfect what Democrats were merely using on an experimental basis: “Big Data.”
The evidence is incontrovertible. New voter demographics key to victory in the Twenty First Century are reached almost exclusively via this approach, i.e. “Big Data.” These demographics include the dominant force in both the 2008 and 2012 victories: Millennial voters. Those aged 18 to 29 voted sixty percent to reelect Barack Obama in 2012. This age group also overwhelmingly use varying digital devices and social media tools when contrasted with other age groups. When Obama used Facebook to get voters in swing states to contact their friends and urge them to vote, 1 in 5 Facebook users responded favorably to that request, mainly because it came from someone they knew.
In addition to being ingratiated with technology, the Millennial demographic responds almost exclusively to postmodern argument — that is, whatever sounds and looks more “cool.” This is in stark contrast to baby-boomers, who more often rely on fact-centered assessments of candidates to decide how they will vote. This also explains why age-diverse focus groups select different “winners” in presidential debates.
The message itself, while important, is not as important as how the message is communicate and what delivery systems are used in the communication of the message. “Jobs, faith and family” should resonate with new voter blocks, but if these voters are not watching televised debates and listening to the radio, and instead are being more heavily influenced by social media, memes, emotive graphic advertising, and text messages, then Republicans should and must adapt. The famous Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates, wherein Richard Nixon ‘won’ with radio audiences, and John F. Kennedy ‘won’ with the new medium of Television, serve as a perfect metaphor for the rapid changes in delivery of information.
Breaking through the communication barrier erected with new technology and new information delivery systems, is absolutely necessary if the Republican Party is ever to win another election. Republicans in Harris County hope that rVotes, combined with an emphasis on fully embracing the new environment, will keep Harris County & Texas, “red.”