Digital consultants could see a surge in demand for GOTV services this cycle with some practitioners now talking it up as a difference maker in a tight campaign.
Many consultants concede that digital can make a difference around the margins by getting a sliver of the recalcitrant electorate to the polls. But many practitioners down-the-stretch turn to old school tactics like robocalls, paid canvassers or volunteer drag-and-drop operations to form the backbone of their GOTV operation.
But with more and more voters casting their ballots in early-vote windows, or opting for an absentee ballot, those kinds pre-Election Day efforts aren’t as practical.
Instead, Doug Hochberg, who became the RNC’s chief digital officer in November, said that campaigns should start their efforts early on after a voter visits their website.
“If you get them to go to your site early, you get them on your email list, you’re pushing them with emails every day leading up to the election,” he said at the recent Marketing Politics in DC conference.
“You’re getting them then with ads because you’re retargeting them properly. You’re telling your data department who’s coming through so you can make phone calls.”
He added: “There’s this holistic feeling — someone comes through a website online; they don’t only live in the digital department, they’re not our property. Political needs this information to make sure that there’s someone knocking on their door so they actually return their [absentee] ballot that they requested.”
The RNC’s effort included retargeting voters who visited its vote.gop site through Facebook. Hochberg credited the committee’s digital GOTV effort with President Trump’s crucial Rust Belt wins in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. In fact, it lifted GOP turnout by 17 percent in both states, according to Hochberg.
“There’s enough people who came through the website that made a difference in the election. I can say that very confidently,” he said. “I think it’s a great argument to be made for why more money should be spent earlier on digital versus any other medium.”
Some Democratic digital consultants, including Jim Walsh, agree with Hochberg, but have argued for a slightly different approach.
“When the election is right around the corner and a campaign has some extra money, it only makes sense to invest in voter targeted digital ads, a tactic that immediately puts the campaign in front of the exact voters they need to turn out and win, over and over again both online and on mobile devices,” Walsh argued in a recent piece for C&E.
Brian Ross Adams, a California-based Democratic digital consultant, notes that Facebook can also help with GOTV volunteer recruitment, or for targeting voters who vote by mail. “If you properly segmented your voter file/Facebook profile integration, you know which voters are permanent Vote-by-Mail voters,” Adams wrote in an October 2016 piece for C&E. “Now that absentee ballots are arriving in mailboxes, make sure your Facebook messages remind these voters to vote for your candidate.”
Now fourteen months later, Adams said he isn’t yet getting requests to do digital GOTV for his down-ballot candidates. But at the national level, consultants are seeing more interest.
Chris Georgia, of FP1 Strategies, said he’s gotten more client inquiries about digital GOTV than last cycle.
“Campaigns are focused more than ever on the tools for making registration, ballot requests and returns as frictionless as possible,” he said. “There also putting resources toward identifying the audiences to best target for these efforts, and funding advertising to them.”