President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign earlier this week, with a video posted on his website and an email and text message blast to supporters stating, "Today, we are filing papers to launch our 2012 campaign – because we've got more work to do." Two weeks earlier, Tim Pawlenty, the former Governor of Minnesota, took to his Facebook page and announce in a slickly produced web video that he would be forming "an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States."
Whatever happened to politicians announcing their candidacy outside of state capitols, like Bill Clinton in 1991? Or in person, to a room full of reporters, like President Regan in 1976? Even President Obama, whose campaign is credited for pioneering campaigning in the digital age, opted for a traditional announcement - declaring his candidacy on the steps of the Old Illinois State Capitol.
The announcements by Governor Pawlenty and President Obama mark the kick-off of the 2012 campaign calendar, and these launches are already hinting at what next year's presidential race is going to look like...and it's going to be markedly different. For the first time, a presidential race will exist primarily online.
Think beyond Facebook and Twitter for a moment. Sure, the two social media behemoths are going to play a large role, but a suite of other technologies are going to change the landscape of grassroots campaigning as well - location based applications, for example. Last summer, the Democratic National Committee came out with a mobile app that integrated tools that allowed users to find political events in their community. It also provided a database of linked contact information to reach members of Congress. All of this specialized information was based off of the user's zip code at the time of launching the application. You can just imagine the growth of similar technologies come 2012. With more people than ever using smartphones and tablets to access information, campaigns will want to reach voters in the palm of their hand.
During last fall's midterm elections, several campaigns produced mobile apps to connect with voters. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who found himself in a particularly competitive race, released an iPhone/iPod app that integrated his website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Flickr account so his followers would be able to be to track his every move. But it wasn't just one-way communication — he also asked his supporters to "upload their own photos, videos and other content to the app to share with the campaign." I imagine that the 2012 presidential race will see a similar approach, with candidates embracing personal apps for the Apple App Store, Android Market and BlackBerry App World, to reach people on every platform. What will be interesting to watch, though, is when they will become available. Will GOP candidates release them during the Republican primary to beat up on their opponents? Or would that be too politically risky (not to mention expensive)?
Since Howard Dean's run in 2004, campaigns have been creative in leveraging technology to advance their message. I am sure that the 2012 will be no different. So as more candidates jump into the race over the next several months, make sure to pay attention to how and where they announce; it is one of the first indicators to the kind of campaign they will run. And you can be sure to bet, technology will play a major role. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.