You don’t have to look very far to find an article digging into the Republican Party’s challenges “closing the tech gap.” We lag behind in software, in talent, in… you get the idea. It’s a narrative that the media loves, and it’s totally bogus.
The GOP doesn’t have a tech problem. We have a culture problem.
And it’s time we fix it.
With the exception of some very bespoke software that could be employed by a few campaigns (presidential campaigns, for example), the Republican candidates and party committees have access to all the tools that they need to run sophisticated, data-driven campaigns. The problem is that we’re not using them well. We aren’t lacking the tool we need to compete, we’re failing to rethink our strategies and tactics for our new, digital landscape.
Take bulk email as an example. Every campaign in America has affordable access to the tools they need to run an effective email campaign. The market has solved the tech problem: there are a variety of bulk email and online fundraising platforms that are (a) available to anyone and (b) easy to set up and use. But nevertheless, Republican campaigns often trail their Democratic opponents in list building, online fundraising, and grassroots organizing. Why?
Democrats are using fundamentally the same tech as Republicans: sending bulk email, accepting online donations, etc. Software or data modeling alone cannot explain the disparity in performance. The difference is cultural, not technological. Democrats get that email fundraising is about relationships and grassroots organizing. Republicans think it’s about advertising and volume.
If Republican campaigns and party committees are serious about closing the digital & field organizing gap with Democrats, we need to start by rethinking our approach:
- Instead of treating email like direct mail, and tweets like press releases, we need to recognize that these are intensely personal mediums with their own norms, taboos, and best practices.
- When building our campaign teams, we need to give our digital folks an equal seat at the table to finance, field, and communications. If every draft email has to get approved (and therefore rewritten) by a finance or communications person with a background in direct mail or TV, there’s little sense in hiring a digital team in the first place.
- It’s true that some situations require bespoke software, but those situations are few and far between. Most of the tools we need to run modern campaigns exist as off-the-shelf, market ready products. You can save time, money, and stress by using them.
We’re not hurting for technology. In fact, most of our campaigns have actually have access to more useful technology than they know what to do with. Our real problem is an unwillingness to embrace the new model of digital & field organizing that’s needed to get value out of the software we have.