2012: The mobile web election

People take photos with their cell phones as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a grassroots rally at The Grove on Feb. 2, 2012 in Reno, Nev.

Several states hold primaries tomorrow. We hope they have a nice time doing so.

Maybe it’s a bit too easy to say that 2004 was the blog election, 2008 was the social media election, and 2012 is the mobile election. But just because it’s easy to say doesn’t mean it’s not true. The last few years have seen an explosion in smartphones and in tablets (the iPad didn’t even exist during the last national election) and the Internet is something that is with us all the time now.

Political campaigns know this quite well and are doing their best to harness the power of hyper-connectedness to ensure their candidate a win come Election Day. But how? You can’t just make a version of "Angry Birds" with your candidate smashing into a recession or terrorists or something. To begin with, candidates are leaning on texting, more for rallying the troops than for finding new troops to rally.

“The experiments that have been done have found that text messaging individuals on election day is actually quite effective in bringing them to the polls,” says D. Sunshine Hillygus of Duke University’s Political Science Department. “But, in part, because of the short amount of space you can get into a text message, also because of intrusiveness of the text message, using text messaging for persuasion messages is quite a bit more difficult.”

Using mobile as a persuader takes a bit more intricate of an approach in terms of language but campaigns will have the benefit of targeting who gets the pitch. “What they're doing there is trying to reach persuadable voters with micro targeting of very specific personalized messages,” Hillygus says, “that are much more likely to contain divisive issues and what we call dog whistle politics, where candidates are sending a message meant to be received only by a small intended group and not heard by others in the electorate.”

Then there's location. Your phone knows where you are and the campaigns will try to make the most of that, just like Facebook and Foursquare do. “For those who are going out canvassing, it means that the walk maps are now automatically programmed into phone,” says Michael Cornfield, who directs the political management program at the George Washington University. “And even better, the canvassers are instructed to input data reporting on the outcome of their door knock as soon as they've done it. So you know which precincts have been covered and you know which ones are responding well so you can reallocate resources on the fly.”

Also in this program, "Fifth Avenue Frogger." It’s a radical reinvention of the arcade classic. New Yorker Tyler D’Angelo reworked "Frogger" but added more up-to-date information. “The way it works is my office overlooks Fifth Avenue, and so we just took a web cam, mounted it outside the window, and we then wrote motion tracking software that will when the cars drive down the street, it takes the position of the cars, turns that into data real time, and then maps that real time data onto these old school graphics in the game that represent cars,” he says.

“When you're looking at the game in the monitor, the top half of the game is we have left it as the live video so you can actually see the cars in real life. And then the bottom half of the video screen is the old school graphics so that you can see the real cars are in the same position as the old school graphics when you're playing the game.”

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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