Harris Media

POLITICO: Vincent Harris Quoted on Cybersecurity

POLITICO
Oct 31, 2014 5:02 AM EDT
By Tal Kopan

Good luck trying to fit a cybersecurity policy slogan on a bumper sticker.

As Election Day nears, voters are being inundated with emails, online ads and last-minute social media campaigns — but don’t expect any of them to address the security of the medium they’re being sent over.

While a string of massive data breaches has made cybersecurity a hot topic on the Hill and in D.C. — only more so after the White House’s unclassified network was hacked this week — it’s simply not an issue that comes up much on the campaign trail, nor is it likely to impact voters’ decisions in the booth.

There are two fundamental reasons the issue isn’t featuring in election fights: its complexity and its lack of resonance with voters.

In other words, even if you could fit a slogan on a bumper sticker, what would that accomplish?

“Every campaign from the dawn of time has been told when they launch to keep it simple, and once we start getting into these words like cybersecurity, they start to worry that that’s the furthest thing from simple,” said Taryn Rosenkranz, a Democratic digital strategist and founder and CEO of New Blue Interactive.

Interviews with a range of campaign strategists lead to the same conclusion: Cybersecurity simply isn’t “sexy” — it’s not a voter-friendly issue.

Even former Pennsylvania Rep. and Gov. Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security secretary who now has a private-sector business built around cybersecurity consulting, says if he were campaigning today, he probably wouldn’t talk about cybersecurity on the stump.

“This election cycle it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that nobody’s talking about it,” Ridge said. “It’s not a sexy issue. People just aren’t trying to talk about it yet; people just can’t connect to it in a personal way.”

It’s not that cybersecurity never comes up on the campaign trail , but it’s rarely an out-front message.

In the South Carolina gubernatorial race, for instance, Democrat Vincent Sheheen released an ad attacking Republican incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley for a breach of the state’s tax office, comparing it to the Target breach — where the company’s CEO stepped down.

In Washington state, candidates for Rep. Derek Kilmer’s seat were asked in a debate to name three threats to the nation, with Kilmer (D-Wash.) listing cybersecurity as one and citing former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in saying it’s what kept him up at night. In Virginia’s Senate race, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and his challenger, Ed Gillespie, answered questions about cybersecurity at a technology town hall moderated by the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

The complexity of cybersecurity provides several obstacles to campaigns. For one, it’s difficult to explain to constituents in a short time frame. Additionally, the technical nature of the issue makes it hard for the candidates as well, by creating the possibility they might mess up key details. The lack of a simple message also means campaigns are unlikely to score points by bringing it up.

Whether it’s a bumper sticker, short campaign ad or social media, strategists know that messaging has to be direct and clear in a saturated environment — and that’s just not cyber.

“I think that cybersecurity, because it’s so nuanced and so complex, it’s very hard to explain to a 65-year-old grandma in Baton Rouge in a 30-second ad, and God forbid in a 140 character tweet,” said Republican strategist and Harris Media CEO Vincent Harris.

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Vincent Harris, Founder and CEO of Harris Media LLC

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