Elections in the era of big data: cloud, mobility, and the evolution of campaign management

12 March 2013 | Stan Freck, Senior Director for Campaigns & Elections in Microsoft’s US Public Sector Office of Civic Innovation

The 2012 presidential race was our first truly digital national election. Building on the innovative techniques of 2008, the Obama and Romney campaigns leveraged cloud computing, social media, and mobile devices to connect with voters like never before. The good news for our democracy is that it’s never been easier for voters to find critical candidate information online, and through a variety of emerging devices.  The good news for campaigns is that it’s never been easier to distribute personalized messages to targeted voters, and manage campaign resources for maximum impact.  

Connecting with Voters

A recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that voters are increasingly using their smartphones to track election news and discuss key issues with other voters. In 2012, both campaigns embraced mobile and social technology trends to their advantage, connecting with voters via mobile apps, text messages, and using sites like Facebook and Twitter to develop and distribute highly targeted messages. Massive amounts of online information enabled campaigns to develop personalized communications around the issues that matter most to registered voters, and feedback collected from online communities enabled candidates to adapt their messaging in real-time. For example, the Obama campaign used Facebook to identify the political leanings of well-connected users, and then provided those users with a customized campaign message they could take to selected friends. The app resulted in over 600,000 supporters urging more than 5 million contacts to take action.

Streamlining Campaign Management

The ability to share information with voters via online, mobile and social platforms has been a game-changer, and those same tools are empowering a revolution in campaign management. Like any large, complex, geographically dispersed organization, information sharing is paramount to a campaign’s success. Cloud computing has empowered political organizations to truly go virtual – making campaign resources available online to volunteers and other staff from any location, and any device. President Obama’s cloud-based campaign dashboard empowered volunteers to access the latest campaign information in real-time, and incorporate those details into voter communications, whether they were out knocking on doors or making phone calls. 

Similarly, emerging solutions like Campaign Cloud Powered by Microsoft provide off-the-shelf, campaign management solutions that streamline processes around creating campaign websites, managing volunteers, and communicating directly with citizens. Most campaigns, particularly at the local government level, can’t afford to build custom solutions from the ground up at the start of every election, which is why these cloud-based, pay-as-you go platforms are gaining so much traction. Through solutions like Windows Azure, every campaign has affordable access to the latest online applications and data-intelligence dashboards, and by 2016, these cloud-based management tools will be a minimum requirement for campaigns across all levels of government.   

To learn more, see our new campaign solutions thought paper authored by political insiders Saul Anuzis and Jeff Link.

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Stan Freck
Senior Director for Campaigns & Elections in Microsoft’s US Public Sector Office of Civic Innovation

About the Author

Stan Freck | Senior Director for Campaigns & Elections in Microsoft’s US Public Sector Office of Civic Innovation

Stan focuses on helping political candidates, campaign staffers, election officials, issue advocacy groups, and voters gain value from the use of Microsoft technology. Read more