The 2016 U.S. elections are finally over. Eight years ago President Obama revolutionized campaigning with data tracking and social media. The question for us: what did we learn from the 2016 campaigns regarding trends, tools and tactics that will soon be relevant in elections elsewhere? We looked at the election coverage and traveled to Ohio, one of the key battle ground states. Here’s our five key take-aways;
Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion. Running any campaign you need data, mainly voter registration data – the more the better we would think. However, a data analyst at the headquarters of the Democratic party in Toledo, Ohio concluded at the end of the campaign that the promises of big data replacing costly troops on the ground did not work out as expected. “We realized that we cannot rely on data only; we still need to supplement our data by sending people out to people’s homes.” Trump’s analysts looked at things differently, their team had detected an upsurge in the electorate especially among the blue collar demographics who were fed up with the establishment, everything that Clinton embodied. Trump’s team chose to focus on this electorate, partly because it was the only possible path for them. But after Comey, that movement of older, whiter voters became newly evident. It’s what led Trump’s campaign to broaden the electoral map in the final two weeks and send the candidate into states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that no one else believed he could win which ultimately swung the election.
New tools will take over – just not yet. Last week the bartender at the Hotel Cincinnatian just wanted the election to be over. “They are calling every hour now, from both campaigns. I’m not picking up anymore.” The Cincinnati region is one of the most contested in the nation and at Trump’s local headquarters the calling issues are known. “Phone calls are not reaching voters like they used to. It will all move to digital engagement, but we are not there yet,” said the local campaign organizer in charge of the so-called phone bank for Donald Trump in Cincinnati.
Dominate the new cycle – like never before. The role of social media especially Twitter as a way to reach voters has been widely covered, for example check out NPR here. Not so much the result of the increase of news sites and freelance journalism, it has given new meaning to an old media mantra: Feed the beast – the beast being a media channel that is hungry for fresh content every day. Especially the Trump campaign used to call into TV news shows in the morning, producing often juicy headlines and giving freelance journalists content to fill their daily obligation of words written and thus dominating media.
The role of technology, innovation and globalization. We decided to embrace the new, the innovation, the rapid spread of ideas. And we almost celebrated the renaissance of Detroit through innovation in our summer tour piece. On our study tour through Ohio we saw cities like Toledo, which has a shriving auto and glass industry and is among the most promising towns in the regions. However, the signs of a better past are almost everywhere: little retail shops in the inner city, deserted office buildings, failing infrastructure and limited hope for significant improvements. Mike Bell, the former mayor of Ohio and one of the few African American supporting president-elect Trump, knows the challenge and has an answer. “I traveled all over the world to find ideas, promoted our region and foster partnerships,” he said. It worked for Toledo, Ohio and our mission is it to make it work for more cities around the world.
Data & journalism to perfection: The conventional wisdom in the modern media age has been that the facts are available to everyone and the analysis makes the difference. This has led to experts and pundits discussing the same questions across different media outlets without much differentiation: In a way just another head with another opinion. There have been a few exceptions, one of them being John King at CNN. During the election night he put numbers and facts into context, provided a factual view on some historic changes and became the point of reference for the night. Unique talent combined with new technologies and data – maybe the model for the future.