Many candidates this election season have been forced to use technology more than ever to get their message out to voters.
Fundraising events and meet-and-greets have moved to Zoom and Facebook Live, and advertising. Some are serious, with round table discussions about foreign policy and racial justice. Others are more jovial, such as celebrity chef cook-alongs.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, digital advertising budgets have more than tripled since 2016. Congressional candidates spent about seven percent of their budget on digital advertising in 2016. In 2020, that number has increased to nearly 25 percent. Presidential digital ads have even begun to mimic door-to-door canvassing by targeting certain zip codes!
Campaigns are also resorting more to e-mail blasts and text messages. These forms of communication are helpful in collecting small donations, but too many digital messages can result in voter fatigue or – worse – can cause voters to unsubscribe. Too few messages, on the other hand, often fail to engage voters. Finding the right balance is key.
A number of candidates have set themselves up solely for digital campaigning. For example, Alex Bronson, a Democratic candidate running for State Senate in Michigan County, has turned his office into a TV set. He ordered lights, a camera, and a high quality microphone.
For presidential candidates with mammoth budgets, TV ads and glossy professional hard-hitting videos are an effective means to build trust and enthusiasm around their campaigns. For lesser-known or first-time congressional candidates, the TV and video route is just too expensive. And so many candidates have been forced to get creative.
Bronson, for example, has also created do-it-yourself instructional videos on painting – he is the owner of a painting business – to stand out and gain traction. Sarah Crawford, a senatorial candidate in North Carolina, created a campaign called “Virtual 5K” in June. Constituents ran 3.1 miles and were subsequently encouraged to post a photo on social media with the hashtag #runvotewin.
The post-race party consisted of a live streaming concert on Zoom and Facebook Live. The event raised just under $9,000, and more than 700 people tuned in to the concert.
Sara Gideon, running against Senator Susan Collins in Maine, is doing socially distant “Suppers with Sara,” and New York State Senate candidate Jeremy Cooney has started “Porch Parties,” with a group of neighbors gathering on a porch or in a backyard to discuss pressing issues while wearing masks and maintaining safe distances from one another.
Ultimately, though, technology can’t replace the human component of in-person campaigning. As we enter the last stretch of the campaign, many candidates are realizing they need the extra in-person push to get them to the finish line and are therefore taking steps to engage as many voters as possible in person in a safe manner.