At The End Of The First Period: 158 Take The Lead

As the primary races move from summer into fall, the Federal Election Commission has released its report of donors to candidates running for president in 2016. To the surprise of no one, the largest donor commitments have been made by a relatively small number of businesses and families. 

A recent New Times research piece reported that $176 million — nearly half of all reported funds raised to date on behalf of candidates — came from 158 families and businesses on the list; 130 of them are backing Republican candidates. 

If you have a strong opinion for or against the Citizens United ruling, now would be a good time to remind you that this is only the first period in what will be a long campaign. 

To reinforce how early it is, the approximate $350 million raised so far represents 8% of the $4 to $5 billion that Borrell and Associates expects will be raised in this election cycle. In addition, FEC filings for October reported that spending by all candidates on digital had only reached a little over $1.5 million through September. The same Borrell report is forecasting $955 million in digital spend for the 2016 election cycle, representing a 350% increase over 2012. By comparison, in the last presidential cycle, the Obama and Romney campaigns spent $52 million and $26 million respectively, up 251% from 2008. 

When it comes to tapping into the political activists, repeat donors and significant portions of the party faithful, it appears that digital will be taking on an increasing role of importance as campaigns moves forward. The Hill magazine has reported that Hillary Clinton may be targeting a digital fundraising goal of $800 million alone. Part of the reason for this is the demographic and economic shifts that are occurring. Specific key demographic and social groups align well with digital outreach.

  • At 30% of the voting population, the Hispanic community may be the make-or-break constituency of this election. They are 88% smartphone-enabled while 62% have access to the Internet at home. In addition, according to Nielsen, 61% of Hispanics 18 to 49 who speak English well still prefer to speak and consume Spanish content on cable and online. Campaigns will need to step up to invest in language-specific digital content. They also need to look at targeting and segmentation differently. The Hispanic community is not monolithic. For example, the youth are concerned about a different set of issues (job opportunity and education) than their parents (security, immigration and voting rights). Reaching the Hispanic audience at scale means proper segmentation and reaching them with the right messaging at home and on their mobile devices. Campaigns need to engage early and often with the Hispanic voter with well crafted messaging.
  • Millennial voters are often talked up by the campaigns but they are historically difficult to reach and harder still to convince to show up at the polls. According to a Deloitte Digital Democracy Study "Leading Millennials age 25 to 34," continue to increase with nearly 37% of them without a TV or phone connected to their cable., They consume their television content on their desktop, smartphone or tablet. Millennial voters also tend to be more technically savvy and much more likely to block cookies and other online tracking tactics. Efforts in targeting Millennials will need to go beyond typical social media or intender segment buying. To achieve the reach and precision necessary to connect with millennial voters, campaigns will need to leverage technologies that on-board by locations, events and on the media that these voters prefer.
  • Activist voters are important to campaigns because these are the voters that rally the neighborhood, put up the lawn signs and make phone calls for candidates. They vote early and they show up at candidate events. The interesting thing to note about activists is that they tend to be either over 70 years old or in the 18 - 25 age category. While older folks make up a large portion of the 14% of the voting population that still watches network news, the younger activist are strong on social media and the political blogs. These folks feed their activism by watching streaming videos and reading the Drudge Report. Digital targeting precision based on voter participation models and the ability to nail down the demographics will be all important.

What digital does well, and forecasts to do well in 2016, is to reach target voters at scale. It’s still very early. The barrage of TV ads, the dinnertime phone calls and the digital onslaught hasn’t even come close to kicking off as yet. While the high value donors will undoubtedly continue their support through the coming months, digital outreach to target constituencies will in all likelihood quickly take on elevated importance – especially if it is done right.

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