“It would be wrong to give up hope that things can get better, our conversations more civil, our culture more tolerant, our politics less virulent,” author Jon Meacham writes in his book, American Gospel. “Extremes make the journey more perilous.” Meacham laments the current state of polarization in society, but relents, in effect, that it is what it is and hopes that the long and great tradition of compromise in America will rise again.
And so it goes in the electoral marketing machinations of national politics. As the midterm elections approach, the Republicans go one way, the Democrats go another. In character with the broad philosophies presented by each party, the Dems apply a collective approach to marketing, while the GOP prefers a more individualistic style.
Nearly all Democratic candidates, from state house hopefuls to Capitol Hill stalwarts, have latched their dinghies to the digital marketing cruise liner of NGP VAN, and one could hardly blame them. The digital fundraising and election campaign agency, which chummily refers to itself as “the VAN,” is widely credited for supplying the tech behind the game-changing volunteer management programs of both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. Using personalization, pre-fill techniques, and a “Quick Donate” feature, Democratic House candidates raised, on average, 34% more funds so far in the 2014 election cycle than they did in 2012, according to an NPG VAN press release. The agency also notes that its FastAction links in emails have a 100% conversion rate, since clicking on them automatically makes the contribution. (Hey, did the Van steal that idea from the IRS?)
“Our Democratic client network benefits from there being over nine million profiles, because that means many potential supporters can contribute without the boring work of filling out an entire online contribution form,” says NGP VAN chief Stu Trevelyan. Who says that all politicians care about is cash?
Surveying the competition from the Red State Zone, digital marketer Zac Moffatt can’t fault Dems for jumping on the VAN either. Though he was Mitt Romney’s digital campaign manager in 2012, he tips his hat to Obama’s supercharged, one-little-donation-at-a-time fundraising machine. “The Democrats are building on six to eight years of technology that powered the Obama campaign, and it won twice,” says Moffatt, who now runs Targeted Victory, a digital agency favored by GOP candidates and organizations. “They can deploy quickly for this cycle. What they’re investing in is great, but they’re all investing in the same thing. When there’s less competition, you can’t get better.”
Rather than designate one agency to serve as the marketing standard bearer for all candidates, as the Democratic National Committee did with the VAN, the RNC chose to subscribe to one database and invite candidates to choose their own agencies to work with the raw material. The Data Trust, a leading data supplier to “right of center” organizations, was designated by the Republicans to lay the PII baseline for candidates with its 260-million customer files.
Like a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, Moffatt believes the GOP’s school of rugged individualism in marketing will win out in the long run. “You have one system that’s been in operation since 2006 and you have another that treats data as a commodity and provides an open platform that gives people more capabilities to build their own things,” Moffatt says. “The first system is known to work, but systems work until the day they don’t. The RNC system provides more flexibility for the future. It’s not party driven so much as reality driven.”
Is the stoked-up partisanship of 21st Century American politicians informing their marketing practices? Must Democrats and Republicans be contrary in all things? One can only hope that our new Congressional representatives, once elected, won’t let the intoxication of victory put compromise out of their minds altogether.
“In any case, the story is about moving forward, through the darkness, searching for the light,” muses author Meacham on the journey of our ship of state. “Or at least it should be.”