This paradox of a divided and yet interconnected world is changing the way candidates win elections. Campaign tacticians are, in essence, returning to the basics, to a system where the political machines control their wards. Today, however, the wards are defined less by geography than by social boundaries and networks. The pace of technology and the advent of new tools to organize, survey, and mine populations enable a single campaign organization—whether based in Chicago or Austin or Boston—to keep more accurate tabs than ever before on the population that will render an electoral judgment in 2012. And these tools grow in sophistication every year.
In the process, we are breaking down two traditional barriers to a campaign’s success. First, strategists can more easily circumvent the press to deliver their messages. “We don’t get our information from just one channel. There is a whole ecosystem of opportunities to seek out information, or to sit around and wait to be influenced,” said Brian Reich, a senior vice president of Edelman Digital and the author of Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society. He added, “Gone is the era when big-budget advertising and flashy marketing could redeem a shoddy product.”
Second, as a society, we are helping campaigns reach more voters by willingly abandoning our privacy. The 2012 presidential campaign will be the most personal campaign ever run, by both Democrats and Republicans, and we are happily providing every side with the data and access to allow it. We give our cell-phone numbers and e-mail addresses away freely; we post messages from campaigns directly to our own social networks, exponentially spreading their reach; and, thanks to data collectors who know the magazines we subscribe to and the credit cards we have, we are giving campaigns an unparalleled level of insight into our lives, virtually without a second thought.
The speed of these changes seems to be increasing every year, as innovation lands upon innovation. Call it the political equivalent of Moore’s Law, the trend first described by Intel cofounder George Moore in 1965. Moore predicted that the number of transistors on a microchip would roughly double every two years, increasing the speed of the computers on which we rely. In politics, the rapid advance of technology means that campaigns are speeding up their contacts with voters and concurrently shrinking the political universe.