The final major challenge that the industry is facing at the close of the 2012 election cycle lies in the fact that Americans are changing the way they cast their votes. Over 32 million Americans cast their ballots early in 2012. Campaigns will in turn have to change their strategies for reaching them. Election Day can now last weeks, depending on the state, and we can envision elections in the future where the majority of ballots are cast early.
We achieved some success in local races this cycle with strategies aimed at building a decisive lead during the early voting window, and we’d suggest this is a trend that campaigns (especially Republican campaigns) need to wake up and take more seriously. As more and more Americans vote early in future elections, it will become absolutely necessary for campaigns to have a plan to “win” or at least be competitive in the early vote, and phone strategists will have to be prepared to reach likely early voters in a timely and effective way.
The experiences of the 2012 election cycle teach clear lessons about how the industry must adapt and improve going forward in order to best serve our clients and maintain our relevance in future elections. The rise of mobile phones as primary or sole contact lines presents a problem that the industry will have to be willing to innovate and experiment in order to overcome. The importance of obtaining hard voter IDs must be rediscovered—campaigns must realize they simply cannot afford not to do it.
The effectiveness of phones can be enhanced if campaigns prioritize voter contact in their budgets and stick to their budgets rather than spending in a reactive and piecemeal fashion. Finally, as campaigns are forced to place greater emphasis on early voting, phone consultants will have to be prepared to reach early voters with accuracy and mobilize them creatively and effectively.
Along with the challenges, there are good reasons to believe that phone services can develop into even more useful campaign tools in the future. The Telephone Town Hall has come into its own as a means for reaching voters—we have gone from doing a few dozen events per cycle to hundreds. At the same time, as some campaigns are questioning the relevance of phones and fretting about regulatory difficulties, the commercial sector is recognizing the value of phones and especially Telephone Town Halls as one of many channels of communication to reach their audience in spite of a much stricter regulatory environment on commercial phone contact.
It is impossible to be sure how changes in the regulatory environment, in election laws, and in technology may change the role which phone services play in campaigns four years from now. But looking back at the 2012 campaign has allowed us, we think, to say with certainty that these are the challenges of most critical importance for the industry going forward.
The midterm elections of 2014 will give campaigns and consultants an important opportunity to improve their tools, refresh their strategies, and find out how these challenges can best be overcome.