In 2024, Digital Is Everything in Politics

Scott Farmer
Chief Operating Officer

As the 2024 election heats up, now is the time for campaigns to invest wisely. Questions abound: Do you invest in cable news advertising? Door-to-door canvassing? Social media? Something else?

For answers, I look back to the past. In 2000, I oversaw the South Carolina Republican Party’s history-making effort to post real-time presidential primary results online. The election night vote-counting for the epic Bush vs. McCain battle played out on screens across the world – not just in the South Carolina GOP’s vote tabulation center. On that night, the ground shifted beneath our feet.

Over more than two decades of working on Senator Lindsey Graham’s campaigns, first as his finance director and then as his campaign manager for multiple elections, I watched digital operations transform from a backwater oddity to the beating heart of modern campaigns. To outsiders, this revolution seemed obvious, given the meteoric rise of social media, data collection, and mobile devices. However, for an industry steeped in “retail politics” that values handshakes, parades, and stump speeches, embracing the Internet’s intangible nature was a massive culture shock.

Many candidates didn’t understand the social media platforms that can decide elections, and many still don’t. But the digitization of politics is now undeniable, with digital ad spending alone expected to increase by about 30% in 2024. Billions of political dollars are now spent on digital ads without even taking into account the organic reach of a given candidate.

The tide turned when digital proved it could raise money. In the early 2000s, campaigns dabbled with websites and a few email donations. Digital was seen as a minor complement to traditional fundraising, not a replacement. Today, large grassroots-fueled campaigns often generate a majority of their funding from small-dollar donors. In fact, we raised a whopping 84% of Senator Graham’s record-breaking $110 million in 2020 from generous digital and direct mail donors. Again, we felt the ground shift beneath our feet.

But fundraising is only the tip of the iceberg. The Obama campaign’s pioneering use of technology in 2008 opened the floodgates, reaching more voters, organizing more efficiently, and raising more money thanks to an unmatched digital operation. Fast forward to 2024, and digital is intertwined with every aspect of a political campaign.

Want to recruit volunteers or distribute yard signs? Utilize your website and social media. Need to map out the most effective door-knocking routes? There’s an app for that. Want to encourage donations during a debate? Send out a text. Looking to target voters on social media and streaming TV? Digital advertising has it covered. “Retail politics” still happens in person, but campaigns are now powered by data and analytics. Digital rules behind the scenes.

The central role of digital highlights one of its most critical values: Real-time metrics. Digital is the canary in the coal mine, detecting a message’s effectiveness long before polls or pundits reflect it. If a strategy shows early success, data quantifies and scales it. If you’re falling behind the metrics, your campaign is doomed. We saw this real-time impact in 2020 when Senator Graham raised over $5 million in only 24 hours due, in part, to standing up for then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. On that day, the ground again shifted beneath our feet.

Read the complete article on Real Clear Politics.

Scott Farmer serves as Chief Operations Officer at Push Digital Group.

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