Mobile apps? Cookie-based targeting? Social organizing? There are still some burning questions for the final stretch of campaign 2012. Here are some last-minute trends to watch as we roll toward November.

1. Can mobile finally come of age?

The real question here is whether the mobile apps—Romney’s with Instagram integration and Obama’s focused on grassroots organizing—actually make a difference. And will enough campaigns embrace mobile advertising for it to become more than a novelty? 

2. Do social organizing tools pay off?

Firms like NGP VAN and Engage have built digital organizing applications that try to leverage campaign supporters’ Facebook activities and connections. Will they actually help organizers involve their supporters, put them to work effectively and help lasso new ones? Or will they just look cool?

3. Does cookie-based advertising do the job as promised?

Lots of 2012 online spending is going to cookie-based voter file targeting, something we talked about at length last issue. Will it prove to be cost effective in the final analysis? More importantly, can targeted persuasion ads move public opinion and actually deliver votes?

4. Which counts more: the air war or the ground war?

This election year may just turn out to be a test of two completely different approaches to political campaigning. Obama’s already spent heavily on field staff and digital recruitment, with most of his online ads focused on volunteer/donor acquisition.

By all evidence, the campaign’s grassroots emphasis should continue through the fall, and they’ve also invested heavily in data-gathering and analysis—hoping to microtarget messages to supporters and potential supporters accurately and efficiently.

By contrast, Romney and his allies have largely ceded the (online-smart bomb-assisted) ground war to the Democrats, choosing instead to put their resources into TV ads running on heavy rotation in battleground states. In part, the difference is driven by the fact that a lot of Republican money is flowing through Super PACs and other outside groups, which are neither oriented nor staffed with grassroots organizing in mind.

It also seems to reflect a deeper bias in Republican strategy—local organizing just isn’t in their blood this year. Just one example, their presidential campaigns were already out-staffed on the ground by the Obama camp for months during the Republican primary season.

Individual Republican candidates can and will create their own local mobilization operations, but they’re not going to be getting much backup from Romney or the Republican National Committee. Democrats, by contrast, will often be outspent on television but should get a boost from the Obama GOTV machine, assuming it works as promised.

Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning Epolitics.com and a 15-year veteran of online politics. A contributor to Campaigns & Elections, Delany writes C&E's Technology Bytes section.

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