Technology has always played an important role in campaigning. From using bullhorns in neighborhoods and radio and television broadcast to reach voters, to robocalls, cellphones, websites, the social media, etc. No doubt, efficient and smart use of technology in campaigning can give candidates a competitive advantage all the way to the ballot box. In modern political campaigns, understanding technology translates into being able to better understand people, and there are a few technologies that have become crucial. These technologies include but are not limited to Big Data, Cloud Computing, the Social Media, and Mobile. In Liberia, the “big data” is not leveraged as it is in western countries primarily because of the lack the skills locally to embark upon such an initiative. However, data manipulation can and will be done in an appreciable way that could benefit a candidate who integrates it as part of his/her campaign strategy.
Before going further, let me first expound on the four technologies mentioned above. Big Data is an evolving term that focuses on voluminous amounts of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data that are analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. Data can be collected from various sources including social media. Cloud Computing is primarily computing on the Internet where a variety of services are delivered. These services include storage, data management, data processing, etc. The Social Media are merely websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. These websites and applications allow forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, wikis, etc. In the case of Mobile (mobile technologies), we refer to the use of cellphones and other mobile devices for communications.
Now, if you have been monitoring the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, you probably know that technology is playing a major role in every presidential candidate’s campaign. The use of Big Data to refine on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) marketing efforts has become the “avant garde” approach to modern electioneering/campaigning. Some candidates use Twitter to energize their base, some use Facebook to galvanize their supporters and garner new supporters, others use web-based crowd funding to kick start their campaign and engage their supporters. Every presidential campaign uses technology. The most sophisticated and tech-savvy presidential campaign often tends to fare well at the polls.
The use of the Internet and its technologies for campaigning became popular when President Barack Obama ran his campaign in 2008. It was that novel campaigning paradigm that played a significant role in winning his ticket to the Whitehouse and subsequently earned his presidency the title: “The first Internet Presidency.” Upon entering the Whitehouse, Obama did not neglect the use of technology as many other candidates do. In fact, he initiated what is today referred to as Open Government, which is the use of the Internet and its accompanying technologies to provide information and services to the public to allow transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. This approach also allowed for citizens to collaborate in the provision of information and data provided by government.
In Liberia, with the exception of Big Data, all of the technologies (Big Data, Cloud Computing, Social Media, and Mobile Technologies), mentioned above are used. They use radio broadcast, mobile technologies, the Internet (Informational Websites and Social Media) have been effective in enabling candidates reach potential voters. But as we approach 2017, a few of the avant garde campaigners will eschew campaign conventional wisdom for more novel and innovative strategies driven by modern technologies. We will see the emergence of a lot of Social Media evangelists and digital strategists. We will see the use of technology occur more vehemently in 2017 than in the past. Robust digital operations, in which candidates’ messages are informed by data and analytics, will be the new order of the day. The campaign that masters digital strategy is going to gain an important edge in the 2017 presidential and general elections.
Data science is not commonplace in Liberia, but we will see campaign teams include data strategists in the 2017 elections who will exploit data at unprecedented scale. And, data garnered by these strategists will provide all sorts of information that will enable campaigners/candidates make decisions. The data garnered will inform candidates about those things that voters care about the most. Candidates will then be able to optimize their “messages” and tailor their platforms to suit the needs of the voters. The same data will provide information that will enhance their “Get Out To Vote” (GOTV) initiatives.
Mobile devices, especially mobile phones, have been very effective in Liberia’s electoral process. They can also be used to target and communicate with voters directly. And they are very effective when it comes to using voice meeting services like Tele-Town Hall. Tele-Town Hall allows a candidate to hold large town hall-style meetings with constituents. It has the ability to hold a 500-constituent Town Hall meeting, and could be of use in 2017.
Technology can also be used to raise funds for campaigns. But, unlike the United States and other western countries, campaigns in Liberia are often funded by the candidates themselves instead of supporters. Considering the poverty level and the mentality many Liberians carry about campaigning, it will be unprecedented if not impossible, to see a candidate attempt to raise funds from grassroots supporters, and to help organize volunteers and staffers using the Internet.
Finally, the use of technology in modern elections is inevitable. Hence, the campaign that emerges as a digital “guru” with the ability to proffer and communicate its policy and strategy directly with millennial voters using a suite of social applications, including Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify, will likely succeed in changing people’s minds.