The Maddening Crowd

It’s going to take a while for the professional political class to digest the 2020 election. Trends that popped up and were dismissed in 2016 came roaring back. And there was plenty of new stuff.

One thing is clear, however. Like 2016, the 2020 election brought a lot of new voters to the polls. And many of them didn’t fit neatly into predictable categories.

So, once again, it was harder for pollsters and their handmaidens in the political press corps to make sweeping generalizations. Bummer, huh?

This newsletter is written by a former political reporter so we aren’t going to shy away from sweeping generalizations about the role that digital outreach played in the 2020 election. Old habits die hard.

New York Times columnist Kevin Roose, who is more of a tech guy than a political guy, had a must-read write-up of how the Biden campaign used digital outreach. There are some real insights there.

Rather than treat online activity as just another screen to be flooded with ads, the Biden folks tailored messages to specific platforms and specific users on those platforms. They looked at digital outreach as something separate and distinct from other forms of paid media.

On Facebook, the campaign found surrogates (also known as “influencers”) to carry its message. They paid attention to feedback loops from the platforms to reinforce messaging and they steered away from simply reusing TV ads to plaster news feeds and YouTube.

Since Facebook and Google put limits on how political ads could appear (some efforts more successful than others), the Biden campaign was most likely making a virtue of necessity. But their winning approach has implications for future campaigns. Digital outreach on social platforms is a lot more like field – reaching people where they are online – than media buying.

This is going to make a lot more sense since the ability to track and follow voters using data about online behavior is dying. Privacy law is doing away with cookie matching and so-called voter match targeting is following right behind it.

Which bring us to another sweeping generalization about 2020: targeting using assumptions about voter behavior is also dying. Campaigns need to collect and use their own data about voters instead of relying on warmed-over observations from prior campaigns.

The pool of voters isn’t just bigger, it’s more diverse. So pollsters were surprised to see Asians and some Spanish-speakers support Republicans. And suburban women split their votes, supporting President-elect Biden against President Trump but supporting Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level.

This ticket splitting might be the result of a trend that’s going to have the biggest impact of all: voting when it’s convenient for you by the most convenient means. Call it whatever suits – vote-by-mail, permanent absentee voting, early voting – but the idea that voters are all going to turn out on one dramatic day is over and done.

So the focus may well shift away from getting out the vote to getting the vote in. This technique was used with great success by California governor Gavin Newsom in his first run for San Francisco Mayor. By the time election day rolled around, Newsom had won. His victory was the result of a concerted effort to first encourage then track permanent absentee voters in San Francisco.

Or to repeat a sweeping generalization much loved by the political class: as goes California, so goes the nation. Corralling ballots – with social media surrogates, specific messages in specific languages, via paid ads, email or texts – is going to be the strategy that wins elections in the near and long-term.

And, of course, Spot-On’s here to help. Pinpoint Persuasion direct buying platform will debut in mid-January. We’ll have information about trusted local outlets in your statehouse and Congressional districts as well as zip search and a ton of information about sites and voters.

Want to kick the tires with a demo? Drop us a line.

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