Clinton and Trump Campaign Technologies
Since the Republican National Convention is underway as I write this – compelling entertainment – it’s appropriate to take a look at the ways the candidates will use technology in the presidential race. I can only discuss the Clinton and Trump campaigns because I can’t find any information on the Johnson campaign beyond its technology policies (which look pretty good, BTW).
The Clinton Campaign
Wired wrote a very complimentary article about the people working on tech for the Clinton campaign that indicates a major investment. The Clinton tech team is built around the leadership of Stephanie Hannon, someone who was developing router software at Cisco early in the millennium (when I was also there.) She also worked at Atheros (a Wi-Fi chip company later acquired by Qualcomm) when I worked for one of their customers. After cutting her teeth as a software engineer in network infrastructure, Hannon went on to some management jobs at Google and Facebook. So she’s got a great background for building and managing technology development teams. And it turns out that campaign tech is, to a great extent, about developing new tools as well as using existing ones. So Hannon has built a very capable development team, drawing on her Silicon Valley connections:
That Clinton would have a sizable tech team this year isn’t at all unusual. In 2012, President Obama’s campaign attracted technologists with similarly stacked resumes, and his tech advantage helped him win the election. Today, a solid tech foundation is an expectation for any presidential aspirant.
Of course, the campaign relies on the technology team to help them with the traditional elements of a campaign:
“It’s a mistake for a campaign to think that it’s in the business of innovation,” says Goff, who was Obama’s 2012 digital director before joining the Clinton campaign. “A campaign is in the business of recruiting volunteers, registering voters, persuading people, and raising money.”
But where off-the-shelf tools fall short of requirements, the Clinton team can step up and close the gap. She has help from the party in terms of access to the tech tools Obama used in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns:
In the process, Democrats gained a wealth of institutional knowledge the Clinton campaign has used as a blueprint. Now, members of Clinton’s tech team say their task isn’t so much to invent the next big thing in political tech. It’s to ensure that all of the little things work a lot better.
It’s good to be a party insider. It’s also good for the party that the Clinton campaign is stepping up its technology game, because future campaigns will benefit from the tools Hannon and her team are developing:
For those GOPers who still care about the future of the party, that’s a scary thought.
“The Democrats are going to come out of this, win or lose, with another 1,000 people who have really big ideas about campaigns and tech,” the Romney staffer says. “It’s almost like a lost cycle for Republicans.”
So the Clinton campaign is doing just what you’d expect it to do, developing and refining a system intended to produce results. I’m reminded of the passage in Primary Colors contrasting the views of the President Clinton character with the Hillary Clinton character on community programs on drug rehabilitation and that sort of thing. The Mr. Clinton character argued that successful programs were down to the charisma of the program’s leader, while the Mrs. Clinton character took the tack that they succeeded because of the way they were structured. So even if the mister was right, you can duplicate structure easily, while charisma is where you find it.
The Trump Campaign
As the title of the Wired article has it, while “Clinton has a team of Silicon Valley Stars, Trump has Twitter.” That’s unfair, of course. Not only does Trump have his relentless Twitter feed, he’s got some high-profile social media figures on his side in an unofficial capacity per the Washington Post. Rather than approaching the campaign systematically, the Trump approach cultivates independent actors and the charisma factor. This makes a perverse kind of sense:
In February, the MIT Media Lab published a ranking of the biggest election influencers on Twitter. These are the accounts that, in terms of pure reach, the most voters are listening to.
The top 10 are pretty obvious: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders. Further down you have your CNNs, your GOPs, your Bill Mahers.
But of the 150 names on the list, a full 42 belong to people who are not candidates, politicians, celebrities or media. Instead, they’re private citizens or hobbyist bloggers who have become forces in national politics, thanks entirely to the power of Twitter.
A lot of these 42 influencers are Trump supporters, in part because supporting Trump is a good troll:
It’s FUN supporting Trump! https://t.co/2e6bPUxigb
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) July 16, 2016
And many of the other “Top Nine” Trump supporters the Post profiles are true believers. The “Trump Babes”, Sarah and Samantha Hagmeyer. While some of Trump’s social media influencer share links or insults on Twitter, the Trump Babes share pictures of themselves in bikinis. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have convictions, reasons for supporting Trump, or most importantly, an audience:
Both girls grew up around politics: Their parents, particularly their father, often talks about Fox News at the dinner table. (He also regularly stumbles upon his daughters’ photos in Trump Facebook groups, which seems a little awkward.) In high school, the twins were involved in student government and began voting in local elections as soon as they were able. They’re excited to cast their votes for Trump, said Sarah, who calls him the only candidate “who is really out there for the American people.”
While there’s is a bit of a contrast between the roles women play in the Clinton and Trump campaigns, at this point the things we see point to different approaches to tech in the campaigns.
Another one of Trump’s social media influencers is Milo Yiannopoulos, an obnoxious Twitter troll who was recently banned from Twitter for abusive tweets:
…Twitter barred one of the most egregious and consistent offenders of its terms of service, Milo Yiannopoulos, in an attempt to show that it is cracking down on abuse.
The ban against Mr. Yiannopoulos, a technology editor at the conservative news site Breitbart and known by his Twitter handle, @Nero, follows a campaign of prolonged abuse against Leslie Jones, a comedian and co-star of the recently released “Ghostbusters” movie. The film and its stars have come under fire from various parts of the internet for months, after it was first revealed that the reboot of the 1984 film would feature an all-female cast.
Ms. Jones in particular has borne the brunt of the online abuse in recent days, especially since the release of “Ghostbusters” in the United States on Friday. Hundreds of anonymous Twitter commenters hurled racist and sexist remarks at the star’s Twitter account, rallied and directed by Mr. Yiannopoulos this week. The news media picked up on the abuse after Ms. Jones began retweeting screenshots of the litany of comments sent to her over the past few days.
Yiannopoulos says his ban is “the beginning of the end for Twitter.” If that’s the case, it’s bad news for a campaign that depends as heavily on Twitter as Trump’s does, but it’s probably not.
Presumably, Trump will begin to use digital tools for the traditional tasks of fundraising, voter outreach, GOTV and the other traditional roles. He has hired a digital director, Vincent Harris, and is beginning to ramp up post-primary operations. (UPDATE: But Harris was fired almost as soon as he was hired.) But there’s no time for the Trump campaign to match the Clinton campaign on tech tools.
Of course, he may not need to because he’s come as far as he has without much in the way of a campaign apparatus. But Republican operatives are not happy with Trump’s barebones organization not only because they don’t profit from it but because they see it as having very little chance for success. If some of those operatives join the Gary Johnson campaign – perhaps working for free or for reduced rates – things could be very interesting in November.
Technology is only one facet of a political campaign, and perhaps not a very important one at that. But if the technology at the disposal of the candidates did determine the outcome of the election, Clinton would take Trump down in an epic wipeout of Biblical proportions. The polls don’t see that happening right now, of course.