In Politics, Technology Matters
February 25, 2016 6:00 AM
by Jay Paterno
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The United States Constitution has been the law of the land in this country for over 225 years -- a remarkably enduring document.

And all that time politicians have always used media and the technology of the day to sling mud and wage political warfare.

Even in our earliest days, one party's newspapers spread rumors about Jefferson while another's dished on Alexander Hamilton.

Since that time it's been necessary politically in media and technology that you must adapt to survive.

Politicians have blazed new trails mastering the use of the latest technology. FDR used the radio to host fireside chats and won four presidential elections. JFK was among the first to grasp the strength of television. Reagan was a master of television and photo-ops.

In 2008, Obama used the internet and social media as no politician ever had before. His campaign's ability to raise money online and build a social media community of people both engaged and invested in his campaign's success was a formidable development. Their technology drove turnout and outflanked the opposition.

In 2016, Trump has been the first to truly master the world of two-screen technology. He is everywhere on television, and the media welcomes him because he moves the ratings needle.

But Trump is also dominant on social media.

We are in a rapidly changing world as it relates to the two-screen age. But what is the two-screen age?

Increasingly, people watching live television events are doing it with a "second screen" using a smartphone or tablet to comment with friends on social media as events unfold.

As you watch a sporting event, a debate, reality television, or the Grammys, that channel creates a hashtag label for viewers to comment, giving them a voice and sense of importance and belonging. The idea is to get their hashtag trending. Hashtags allow broadcasters to review comments in real time and demonstrate to advertisers how many people are engaged.

On talk radio, it also allows hosts to steer a show's topics toward what people want. When I appeared in studio on ESPN's Mike and Mike show, they read tweets as the show was happening. During commercial breaks they even saw questions people wanted to ask and used those.

Donald Trump understood that power of creating a dominant social media presence long before he entered politics. He expressed his own opinions on Twitter, creating a sense of direct accessibility.

Most politicians have someone else run their social media accounts. When they are actually personally tweeting, they signify it with their initials to let everyone know it is really them. What they are really telling people is that the Twitter account you're following is only a part-time conversation they are having with you.

Not so with Donald Trump. The people who follow him feel like they always hear right from him. He transferred that seemingly direct personal connection to his Presidential Campaign where he remains the force on Twitter.

More than any other candidate, Trump understands that free television/media is just one leg of the political arsenal. Buying ads is another but the return on investment of ad buys during television broadcasts is waning.

Social media is immediate; free and direct to the people unfiltered by pundits. Trump can say exactly what he wants, when he wants. Also, because the media knows his Tweets are truly his, they get more free media when they're further reported as statements he has issued.

But social media is just one aspect of politically necessary technology. Voter analysis has reached detail that the founding fathers would have found staggering.

Campaigns have data on everyone on your street -- including you. They know your party affiliation, how often you vote, and who you have given money to. They know your newspaper and magazine subscriptions and whether you have cable or satellite TV or neither. They know if you have a land-line phone. They fight hard to get your cell number, promising you updates if you just text your number to their campaign.

When they knock (or don't knock) on your door there is a reason. When they choose to (or choose not to) hang an Election Day reminder notice on your door there is a reason. When I have worked on campaigns, I saw the data; it was scary good and that was a couple of years ago.

As good as it is for elections, the technology even allows parties to choose their voters rather than the voters choosing their candidates. Every 10 years when your state redistricts your Congressional Districts they have all this data. They use data down to the street level to create districts in their state that are favorable to the party that is in power. That is why so many Congressional Districts on a map look ridiculous.

When people wonder why certain campaigns floundered and others flourished, certainly the candidate's message matters. But just as important is that campaign's ability to use technology to get the message out and find voters on every street in every community that are most likely to be receptive to it.

It is survival of the fittest and those who will not adapt...

Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed therein do not necessarily state or reflect those of StateCollege.com.

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