CPAC 2015 Digital Action: Conservatives Have Fallen Behind in Campaign Tech

Conservatives and the Republican Party have fallen far behind the left in campaign voter outreach technology, and Ned Ryun hoped to help participants at CPAC 2015 learn how to gain that lost ground.

Ryun, the founder and director of the campaign operative training group American Majority, hosted a breakout session at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference titled, “Back to the Future: Catching up on Political Technology.” During his comments, Ryun warned that the center right is woefully behind the curve in campaign technology, and if things don’t change, it will seriously hamper the electoral future of conservatives and Republicans both.

In fact, Ryun said that, during the 2012 elections, the utter failure of Orca, Mitt Romney’s campaign data system, helped contribute to his defeat. Ryun said he feels that with the proper data system, the 2012 election was winnable for Romney.

It is calamities like the crash of Orca that Ryun hopes to prevent with his work with American Majority and his new campaign data system Voter Gravity.

After the debacle in 2012, Ryun realized that the center right desperately needs useful political technology. He determined that the right needs its own cloud-based database of voter files with front-end tech tools such as mobile aps and a voter phone bank system that allows users to quickly refine data for voter contact, using tools that can stream in real-time all necessary information back into the same database.

This is something that the Obama campaign fully succeeded in building, Ryun said, and it is something that Republicans need to emulate and quickly.

“Tech is a means to an end,” Ryun said, “it’s just a way to refine voter contact.”

But the human touch is still extremely important. “The most effective means to get your voters out is still face-to-face to urge voters to turn out and vote.” Ryun continued saying, “Going door to door is still necessary. One out of four people you talk to will turn out to vote for you.”

One of the audience of 50-some attendees asked why the GOP is so far behind in the race for a good voter data system. Ryun felt that one of the problems is endemic with the conservative ethos. “We suffer from a bit of hyper individualism,” he replied. There are too many competing products out there, many untested and unworkable. Whereas, the left put all their eggs in the Obama campaign data system called Narwhal and ended up with a dynamic and useful system that helped drive them to victory.

There is another problem that the right has to surmount: just who owns the data? After all is said and done and a system is built, there is still a question of who owns and who can use that system. This is another issue that needs to be worked out, Ryun insisted.

Still, the newer data systems—whether it is his, the one devised with the backing of the Koch brothers, or the Republican National Committee’s efforts—are becoming more affordable for local elections, even as far down the chain as school board elections. In the past it was cost prohibitive for local election campaigns to try using such a system, but Ryun says that in some cases costs have fallen to as low as $100 a month.

Campaign costs are also of supreme importance to campaigns, Ryun said, and those costs are only going up. “I think the age of pure volunteerism is almost over. Nearly everyone wants to be paid to do campaign work.” With new database systems, Ryun contended that costs can be better managed to greater effect.

But Ryun was insistent that this has all been something that the left does better than we do. “One thing the left has always done better than the right is training volunteers and campaign works on getting ready to use the tech and to understand the systems and the goals.”

This, he said, is something that absolutely must change, or center right candidates will find winning almost impossible in this data-driven future.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.


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