Vincent Harris: The Year the GOP Stepped Up Its Digital Game

Campaigns and Elections
November 24th, 2014
By Vincent Harris

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Vincent Harris, Founder and CEO of Harris Media

The 2014 midterm elections will go down in history as a cycle where Republicans ran almost flawless campaigns. The Democrats were defending several Senate seats in traditionally red states and President Obama’s approval rating was worrisome for many Democrats up for reelection. The GOP took advantage by stepping up their digital game.

Trickle down tech-onomics began with the national committees, which invested heavily in digital and worked proactively with campaigns through education, training, and even some arm twisting, to ensure digital and data had a valued role. Candidates and campaigns at all levels of office, traditionally having been run by an older generation of consultants, finally began to allocate time and resources to the digital effort.

Take the Texas Lieutenant Governor’s race, for example. The candidate was an early believer in digital who was willing to embrace social media and turn his Facebook and Twitter pages into a megaphone for his campaign message. The crowded Republican primary saw three opponents launching simultaneous attacks on Dan Patrick, attacks that were responded to immediately via custom search campaigns and updates to an often read “truth versus facts” page on the website.

As the attacks got more personal, Senator Patrick often posted heart-felt responses himself, which were promoted to the base. One response to a last minute attack reached over 500,000 people through social sharing for less than $12,000. Social media was used as a direct line of interactive communication to Patrick’s most passionate supporters.

Additionally, one of the most practical targeting advancements this cycle was Facebook’s new ability to match voters based on home addresses. Often our match rate was above 70 percent, allowing for a more targeted, efficient digital buy.

In Kentucky, the Mitch McConnell campaign embraced NationBuilder as its centralized database of record. The company had been critiqued for its bipartisan roots, but as most great technology companies, its core belief centers on the technology, not the politics.

Over the course of about six months, all voter contact was connected in real time to the database and numerous appends helped update the base file with missing email addresses and cellphone numbers. Every voter contact that was made across digital, phones, and door-to-door was communicating off of the same, updated database. This is something that is often discussed on the Republican side, but is rarely put into live practice. The sad reality though is that the overwhelming majority of Republican campaigns are not operating with one centralized database. This needs to change.

A study in October found that Facebook was the second largest source of political news for voters (after local news). The 2014 cycle reinforced the fact that social media cannot be brushed aside. In our 24-second news cycle, social media should become the default communications medium from which to launch rapid responses to attacks, new television ads, or breaking news.

Republican digital took another step forward this cycle, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach parity with the culture of the Democrats.

Vincent Harris is CEO of Harris Media, a digital communications firm in Austin, Texas.

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