How to Win in the Era of Trump: Revisited

 In Digital Marketing, Fundraising, Political Campaigns, Web

After the 2016 elections, American politics got a crash course in the role digital plays in campaigns and elections. After 2017, we know a lot more about what works, what doesn’t, and exactly what we can accomplish when people are motivated and mobilized.

Now, in 2018, we’re prepared to never repeat the mistakes that were made in 2016. We have seen what’s effective and what’s not, and we know the power of digital in making or breaking a campaign. While many of us were devastated by the ultimate outcome of the 2016 election, it helped to mobilize progressives across the country and confirmed the power of digital to the political world.

The Trump campaign was the first major, nationwide campaign to fully dive into the realm of highly targeted digital ads. They used incredibly specific Facebook ads to target groups of voters to confirm biases, persuade independent parties, and encourage or discourage people to vote. With the help of a massive database, they mastered getting the right ad to the right group of people in order to discourage Hillary supporters from turning out in critical states, and encouraging those who would be likely to vote for Trump to come out to the polls on Election Day.

We have definitely learned from our mistakes, and we’re already implementing new strategies in 2018 to drive better results and win. We’ve talked about what we learned from 2016 already — so now, here’s what we’ve learned since:

Lesson #1: Digital still works, and candidates need to step up their game.

The power of digital has gained momentum in 2017. It’s been successful for our clients, and in a post-Trump world,  it’s being strategically integrated into the campaigns of many candidates and elected officials more than ever before. They have been increasing their presence on the most popular digital sites — and they’ve been winning.

To name a few, Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren have been especially successful at reaching out and communicating on digital. Their presence on digital sites that so many Americans spend their time on has allowed them to get the point across about important issues more effectively. By increasing their presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other digital sites, they bring the issues to the voters. Effectively communicating through technology and remaining transparent on digital has mobilized both of these candidates — in Warren’s case, making sure Americans know what’s going on in the Senate, and in O’Rourke’s case, increasing name recognition across the US and making a long-form case about why he’s the best candidate to beat Ted Cruz. In both cases, digital has also helped to keep young people informed about important news stories!

Digital fundraising has also been successful in allowing many candidates and elected officials to out-fundraise their opponents. Digital fundraising has revolutionized the way many candidates raise money, especially for Democrats. Bernie Sanders popularized digital fundraising in his 2016 campaign– and ever since, more candidates have been effectively using digital fundraising. We have seen the success of this recently with Beto O’Rourke’s grassroots campaign raising significantly more than Ted Cruz — who’s backed by big money and major PACs.

After digesting the influence of digital in the changing political landscape, and the Trump campaign’s success in focusing heavily on digital — specifically Facebook ads — many others have followed suit and began exploring the realm of digital. Candidates and elected officials have really stepped up their game, and will be forced to continue to do so if they want to win. Digital is the future, and whether we like it or not, it’s what will drive our politics in the years to come.

Lesson #2: Authenticity is key, and we need to focus on the issues.

Digital media makes it easy for candidates to display authenticity by responding to issues and breaking news stories quickly. They can get the word out about their position on a news story almost immediately, thanks to digital and social media. An immediate response to important news stories helps voters get to know who a candidate really is: no editing, scripting, or modifying.

Digital has allowed everyone — celebrities, elected officials, candidates, and everyday people like us  — to give the world more insight into their everyday lives. And now, that’s what voters expect from their candidates; to really know who they are. And the best way to do that is by showing people what you’re really about — how you plan to make a difference on the issues that mean the most to you. Digital has made it extremely easy to get these points across to voters and be transparent with your audience.

Digital helps to facilitate the authenticity people want and expect from their candidates. An example of this is Facebook Live. Live video is so effective because it’s easy for a candidate to be transparent and authentic with their audience when recorded live. It’s not scripted, and that’s what people like to see from their candidates today. Live video on Facebook is easily accessible, gains the support of voters, and communicates clearly about an issue. We can see Elizabeth Warren’s passion in her work through her live updates on Facebook. Her videos provide inspiration to others by just seeing what drives her to keep moving forward– her followers adopt a similar attitude, use their voice, and vote.

Beto O’Rourke has set a great example for how to display authenticity on digital, and use it to your advantage, especially well. He posts regular Facebook Live updates, including live videos of town hall meetings and videos of his campaign on the road. Beto posts live updates of him driving across the state to campaign events, often low on gas. He engages his followers by asking them to guess how much it will take to fill his tank, then encourages his followers to donate the total amount of his gas tank so he can continue to stay on the road. His transparency and authenticity has worked — and his total grassroots donations have been higher than Ted Cruz’s super PAC donations. See for yourself:

In 2017, Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook Live video went viral after she was silenced by Republicans on the Senate floor. After being denied the right to read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor, she stood outside the floor and recorded herself live. The video reached millions of people with her message, and let her followers know how Republicans attempted to silence her — making them furious. In an attempt to reject the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the viral video was extremely powerful in spreading the word and undermining the Republican agenda to keep quiet Coretta Scott King’s letter from 30 years ago. Thanks to digital, her message reached across the nation:

Authenticity and transparency are powerful in today’s political climate, and digital allows candidates to be accessible and approachable to voters online. So, focus on the issues when posting on Facebook, Twitter, and other digital platforms. Be sure to show your followers that you are authentic and transparent through various methods: responding to breaking news quickly, using live video, and keeping it real.

Lesson #3: When people are passionate and  inspired, they will vote.

In 2017, we saw firsthand how people who are inspired to vote, will vote. Many of us are concerned for our futures, our families, and are disappointed by the daily news coming from the White House. If anything positive came out of the 2016 presidential election, it’s the nationwide passion to turn out votes for Democrats in 2018.

Democrats swept the polls in 2017 elections — even ones who weren’t expected to win. This momentum of voters who came out to vote in 2017 gives us a good indication that they will turn out in 2018 to support Democrats.

So, how did Democrats win, even in areas that typically go red? Well, it’s a unique time in our history where people are paying attention more than ever, and many people are feeling inspired, gaining momentum, and using their voice (and their vote) to stand up to the current leadership in Washington. The extremely successful Women’s March the day after Inauguration Day 2017 inspired people to step up and make a difference themselves by showing up  to the polls the next Election Day, and the feeling stuck. Democrats overwhelmingly turned out in 2017 to vote, and it suggests that there’s only going to be more momentum, and more voters voting blue in 2018.

We saw this happen during last year’s special election in Alabama. Doug Jones became Alabama’s first Democratic Senator in 20 years. Amid sexual assault allegations made against his opponent, Roy Moore, Alabama saw high Democratic turnout in key areas that was extremely unlikely. With so much media coverage on Moore’s history of sexual assault against, people were passionate about voting in this election. They turned out to the polls and voted in their first Democratic candidate since 1997.

Since 2016, many Democrats have swept in areas that historically vote red. So how did they do it — and how can we keep that momentum going?

Take a look at Virginia’s governor race in November 2017: Ralph Northam defeated GOP operative Ed Gillespie after employing an innovative movement to drive the campaign through digital advertising. The Democratic Party collaborated with outside organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, in this election to produce what became “the Democratic Party’s best-coordinated joint digital effort yet”. After seeing the success and momentum Northam gained in defeating Gillespie, it opened the door for other Democrats to venture into using similar tactics for the 2018 Midterm Elections. Many Virginians rallied behind Northam and other progressives in Virginia, and their digital advertising tactics followed the Trump campaign’s start on the movement in 2016. Thanks to success in these campaigns, 2018 will be an entirely different ball game in the political world.

Northam inspired many liberal and moderate voters to come out to the polls. They were eager to send a message to President Trump, and outnumbered Republicans in doing so. With all of this energy directed toward a change in leadership, big changes happened in Virginia, and the message continues to spread online and on the ground as we gear up for Election Day 2018. The results of the November 2017 elections are a real threat to the GOP control of the House of Representatives in 2018. With the help of digital, we can keep the momentum going and make positive changes in 2018.

In 2018, we have more momentum than ever to use the power of digital to make changes in leadership, work hard for positive results, and help our clients win critical elections.


Want to learn more about how Democratic campaigns are using digital to win? Check out our sources for further reading:


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