At their best, consultants have an uncanny ability to predict the future, or at least spot a trend. With that in mind, we asked top practitioners from different corners of the industry to make predictions about the future of campaigns, politics, and sports in 2017 and beyond.
Here’s what they told us:
Chris Turner, president and CEO of Stampede Consulting: "After their near-death experience this year, pollsters will adjust their mythologies ever so slightly, increasing sample sizes first and then expanding data capture modes to include door-to-door interviews to supplement their more traditional tools for obtaining survey completes.
The industry will change, but ultimately thrive, as big, one-and-done benchmark surveys are slowly replaced in the political space by analytics, on-going panels, and much more frequent use of always-in-the-field type tracking."
Mark McKinnon, media consultant and television producer: "At some time during the next year, Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, will play a pivotal role in averting or solving a serious crisis. Or will be the glue that makes something significant happen on an important policy front. Look for him to be an MVP shuttling between Republicans and Democrats."
Brian Ross Adams, founder of Trusted Messenger Marketing: "Despite what many Democrats believe (and hope), Donald Trump will continue to use social media to directly reach his supporters, frame the story and win the news cycle and ‘perception wars.’ By the end of the year, his approval rating will be well over 50 percent."
James Norton, president and founder of Play-Action Strategies: "2017 will prove that the events and surprises of the 2016 elections were not blips on the radar, but instead taught lessons that will actually stick with us.
Following the hacking incidents, most notably of the DNC, the major parties will finally prioritize cybersecurity and spend major dollars on security features and on educating their respective campaign communities.
Congress will buckle down and focus on average Americans’ concerns regarding economic advancement and health care, resulting in a break from the gridlock and a reform agenda that will dictate the campaign themes for the 2018 midterms. Finally, the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ elections will be hard fought after Democrats watched Republicans dominate at the state level in 2016. Democrats’ renewed vigor will result in a victory in New Jersey, but Ed Gillespie will prevail in Virginia."
Liz Mair, GOP digital consultant: "1. Ironically, given President-elect Trump's pledge to "Drain The Swamp" and curtail the influence, power and wealth of the Beltway elite, his inauguration and first year in office will drive a massive boost to D.C.-focused lobbying and public affairs spending--irrespective of whether dropping that coin has any demonstrable effect on policy outcomes. People with honest-to-God connections to Trump will do well out of this, but so will others including people with exactly zero ability to influence the administration or new Congress.
2. Pollsters are going to continue to grapple with the failures we've seen of late, and the question of how to avoid them. This is going to be very challenging, because in order to produce better analysis and information, pollsters are going to need not just to figure out how to incorporate responses from people they've obviously been missing into their data, but also they are going to need to start doing real, deep dives into the data. Not just measuring who responds well to catch-phrases or given policies or opinion leaders, but why, in very specific, granular terms. This is not done nearly as broadly or extensively as pollsters pretend and it is a real problem.
3. Obamacare will not be "repealed" using any standard definition of that word. It will, at best, be reformed, but plenty of money will be spent describing what was done as repeal despite this."
Chris Nolan, founder of Spot-on: "Mobile will grow in importance, but the ability to target will be wildly over-sold. Anyone who says ‘device ID’ to you is selling a technology that has very limited use. Device IDs, like IP addresses, are not fixed.
Ad fraud is big and it's going to get bigger. Worth noting: The use of false IP addresses to create fake readers. If you think IP address are somehow sacrosanct and unchanging -- like a physical street address -- you need to think again. An ad sent with cookie targeting to a fake IP address is an ad that you paid for but which no one saw."
Adriel Hampton, CEO and principal consultant, The Adriel Hampton Group: "California adds to its prominence in Democratic fundraising by becoming the seat of anti-Trump politics and activism. The early race for governor heats up with the addition of one more SoCal superstars, and media attention turns to the state and its next generation of left-wing political leadership.
Digital firm energy and expertise continues to shift west from D.C. in the wake of the Sanders and Clinton losses. PDI, the near-monopoly data and field software vendor in the California, begins to make moves beyond the state."
Tracy Dietz, executive vice president of L2: "As predicted last year, the Cubs will return the World Series but lose in game six. The party organizations (RNC, DNC, DCCC, RSCC, etc.) will revamp their data operations bringing in a vendor with a focus on security and quality. The president-elect will have a reality show about being POTUS. It will be called, “Being POTUS.” Angela Merkel will be voted out and high heels will go out of style."
Brent Buchanan, managing partner at Cygnal: "We will see more platforms hit the market to provide better consultant/candidate control, deeper insights, and greater value. Look specifically to polling, digital, and mail. Many will be self-service, but others will improve control of data and reporting."
Kurt Luidhardt, co-founder of The Prosper Group: "I'm watching to see if 2017-18 might be the continuation of an increasingly difficult environment for political consultancies and vendors. The landscape on the GOP side of the aisle will continue to fundamentally change as some political firms struggle to make money. This could result in shifts by individuals either to get out of the business altogether or consolidate with competitors."
Laura Packard, partner at PowerThru Consulting: "2017 and beyond will produce a lot more candidates and elected officials like Trump -- on the right and on the left. It's no longer important to (at least appear) to tell the truth, because we all learned that your supporters will believe a charismatic candidate over the media or fact-checkers any day. Especially with the echo chambers produced by social media and slanted TV/radio channels."
Ian Patrick Hines, founder of Hines Digital: "We’re seeing it already, and it’s worrisome: candidates and campaigns are taking the wrong lessons from President-elect Trump’s surprise victory.
They myths around his victory — that he eschewed consultants, that design didn’t matter, and that his Twitter account carried him to victory — have made their way to candidates down-ballot.
In fact, the president-elect leaned heavily on a smart and experienced team of operatives. He benefited greatly from the RNC’s early, sustained investments in digital engagement and fundraising, which yielded tremendous returns in the campaign’s final weeks. And as for his Twitter account? There are plenty of loud tweeters, but only one Donald Trump. Your mileage may vary.
The candidates who succeed will make smart, early investments in their digital and field operation, and run precise, resource-efficient campaigns. They’ll learn different lessons from the RNC and Mr. Trump’s campaign: to hold vendors accountable for measurable results, invest early in list building and online fundraising, and put trained organizers on the ground to get out the vote."
Fred Davis, GOP media consultant: "President Trump will greatly exceed the expectations of many, become the vitally needed instrument of change he promised, and it will take more than 2017 for the news media to realize how far behind this country they are so they can begin to catch up."
Josh Hendler, chief technology officer at Purpose: "2017 is going to be the year that the tech industry wakes up to the danger posed by Trump – in both word and deed. We’ll see an unprecedented amount of VC and philanthropic funding for political technology and progressive organizing infrastructure, and a shift away from the more techno-utopian open platforms of the past. We’re already seeing this amongst the rank and file technology workers, and it will bubble up."
Samantha Osborne, deputy digital director at the RNC: "2017 will be another big fundraising and acquisition year. I'm hoping that more campaigns are seeing the value in online fundraising and cut bigger digital budgets early for it. I think more people are understanding that digital is the most cost effective medium for reaching targeted audiences. After all the 2016 success, Facebook will continue to be King for all direct response advertising.
We now have the ability to match our lists to Facebook profiles at a previously unheard of rate. The RNC matched 80 percent of our list to real people on Facebook. This is a huge victory for digital to actually measure how our audiences we're reacting to our ads in real time. Something you can't get from mail, phones or television.
On the content side, following the lead of the president-elect, I think there will be an emphasis on digital rapid response, specifically via Twitter. I also think you'll see more campaigns utilize Facebook Live and given that Facebook's algorithm prioritizes video, there will be a higher demand for video creative."
Justin Wallin, pollster with Probolsky Research: "In 2017, expect non-statistically valid polling methods (online, robocalls, etc.) to continue to flourish. The decline in telephone response rates and rising costs of live interviewer telephone surveys will continue to push a migration to e-mail/online responses. Email driven online research will get better and better (in California about 50 percent of new voter registrations are returned with usable email addresses).
In small sample universes – such as cities and townships with under 10,000 likely voters – mixed mode methodology will emerge as the most useful tool…moving to e-mail/online after exhausting a telephone survey. Even good ole' fashioned snail mail can deliver solid directional input in some communities with older demographics.
The best polling will continue to be more expensive, and will deliver real accuracy for those willing to pay. What's dead in 2017? Landline-only, artificial limits on the number of cell phone completes in a sample and English-only polling. And that’s a good thing."
Jason Cabel Roe, partner at Revolvis: "The love affair between President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will dissolve when the new president doesn’t get his way and resorts to an executive order. Congress will show him the limits of executive power."
Melissa Ryan, digital strategist: "2017 is gonna be weird."