How Mobile Technology Influenced the Presidential Election

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Besides President Obama, one of the big winners of last week’s election was an emerging way of collecting campaign donations. Mobile payments played a major role in this year’s cycle, helping to collect from donors who might not otherwise contribute.

“It’s a simple transaction and targets a younger demographic that has a higher penetration of smartphones and mobile web. Taking political donations via mobile does broaden [the base],” says Darcy Wedd, president of mobile payments company Payvia.

In an interview with BTN this week, Wedd discussed the impact of mobile payments on the election, based on the company’s own performance and information culled from sources such as Pew Internet reports and stikkymedia.com. The data suggest mobile is a mostly bipartisan way to reach voters and collect donations. Pew Research Center says 90% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats own a cellphone, and about half of each party’s voters own a smartphone.

Liberals would appear to have an edge: Pew says about 37% of liberals used their cell phone this cycle to receive news on the campaigns, as opposed to 28% of moderates and 25% of conservatives.

But the election provided ample evidence that both sides saw increased donor activity by linking mobile payments to other forms of messaging, mobile and otherwise.

Payvia, which offered text-to-donate apps for both Presidential campaigns, says one in ten presidential donors contributed via text message or mobile app. (Payvia did not disclose specific performance numbers for either campaign.) Mitt Romney’s campaign saw a 96% spike in individual mobile donor volume after his first debate, which most pundits felt he won. The Romney campaign streamed the debate on the campaign’s website, which includes a link to donate via mobile underneath.

President Obama, who drew donations from 10 million individuals (or about 1 million mobile donors) also saw a similar real-time response. There was a 61% spike in volume after Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, sent a “text to donate” message during the Democratic National Convention. “Text messaging a short code is an easy way to allow execution of a donation. You aren’t going to be as likely to bring a checkbook to rally, or pull out a PC to make a credit card donation,” Wedd says.

For future elections, younger voters would appear to be a particular sweet spot, particularly as they get older and turn out in greater numbers to vote.  Research from mBlox says 90 percent of people aged 18 to 24 spend between five and ten hours per day on mobile devices, and more than a third want to receive brand promotions from tablets or smartphones.

Wedd says mobile is also catching on with other demographics, making it a way for people to quickly donate and spread word of their support for a candidate to others via social networking. Webb says future development will likely include social networking sites with donate buttons that link to users’ accounts. “You can Tweet or post on Facebook and provide information on how to donate,” Webb says.

It’s a development that would have benefited President Obama much more in this election. The President has 31 million Facebook followers as opposed to Romney's 11 million. The former governor is reportedly losing Facebook followers at a staggering rate.

Webb says the use of mobile devices for political activity is far higher than it was in 2008.“A lot of this tech wasn’t available four years ago. You could send a text to a short code four years ago, but to link a smartphone to carrier billing is pretty much something that you were only able to do in this election,” Wedd says.

Other emerging technology also played a role in the election. The Obama campaign’s use of “big data” to micro-target voting segments was said to play a key role in his victory. And Square debuted is mobile acceptance application in this year’s election, allowing campaign staff to use Square dongles to accept donations while at rallies.

Like Payvia, Square did not mention competition with large donors and super PACs directly, but did tout the ability of the technology to easily collect payments from a large number of relatively smaller donors at live events. “With Square, campaigns were able to instantly tap into the excitement supporters feel when they attend a rally or meet a candidate,” a Square spokesperson told BTN via email.

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