The Mobile Presidential Election

The Mobile Presidential Election

Ramona McNeal, Lisa Dotterweich Bryan
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch081
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The Internet has been incorporated into political campaigns for a number of purposes including making direct appeals to citizens through the Internet to vote, volunteer their time or donate money. An important question is can the Internet be utilized to increase voter turnout? The Internet has been found to hold the most promise in increasing turnout when it is used to facilitate get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drives. The purpose of this article is to determine what the impact of including smartphones into a GOTV effort may have on voter turnout. To explore this question, voter turnout strategies were examined for the 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections. The findings suggest that when smartphones are used as part of a mobilizing effort, they can help increase voter turnout. Nevertheless the findings also suggest that whether these GOTV drives increase turnout is dependent on which voters are targeted by mobilizing activities.
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A number of scholars (e.g. Campbell, 1960; Wolfinger & Rosenstone, 1980; Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993) argue that the reason why some individuals are less likely to vote is based on costs and benefits. In particular, the young have to expend greater energy (costs) to get registered, familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues and get to the polls. In addition, they have greater competing demands on their time (which can include school, job search and dating); therefore, the benefit from voting can be less (Wolfinger & Rosenstone 1980, pp. 55-60; Rosenstone & Hansen 1993, pp. 163-169). Adding support to this argument is McAtee & Wolak (2011) who found that lack of information is the reason most often cited for not participating.

The obstacles these voters face can be overcome by high stimulus and information rich elections. During such elections (e.g. presidential elections), individuals are bombarded by election news, which dramatically lowers the cost of obtaining information. In addition, the excitement surrounding a high profile election makes its outcomes seem more significant and increases the perceived benefit of participating. These findings suggest that solutions to low turnout should encompass lowering the cost of participating or increasing the perceived benefits or both.

One method of increasing the perceived benefit is through making personal appearances often referred to as the “ground war.” This is an older technique for campaigning that involves both phone calls and house-to-house canvassing. Over time this method has taken a backseat to the “air wars” or using mass media such as Internet, television or radio to reach voters. Recently, however, national candidates have begun making the “ground war” a more significant part of their campaign strategy. One reason is that the electorate has become more polarized. Because the political center is shrinking, it no longer seems as practical to make broad appeals to the electorate. Instead, reaching out to the base with targeted messages is becoming a major strategy. For example, modern presidential campaigns typically spend 70-75% of their war chest on the “air war.” In 2008, however, the Obama campaign only spent 50% of campaign funds on the mass media and instead elected to focus more money on the “ground war” (Hershey, 2013).

The “ground war” has become easier with advances in cell phone technology. A Pew Internet & American Life Project Survey (2012) found that approximately 88% of registered voters own a cell phone and made extensive use of it for political activities. The survey also found that smartphone owners were particularly apt to use their cell phone for political activities including fact checking political statements and taking part in political discussion on social network sites.

The fact that citizens are using their cell phones for activities ranging from fact checking candidate statements in real time to presenting their own personal views on social network sites has not been lost on candidates. Recently, some political candidates have adopted a number of strategies using cell phones to reach the electorate including integrating Mobile Apps into their campaign strategy for connecting with the public. Mobile Apps have been used for a variety of activities ranging from newsletter registration to micro-donation, “a payment or donation a person has charged to their mobile device bill,” and polling (Pessin 2010). For example, Missouri Democrat Tommy Sowers used an App to have supporters pay the $50 fee for admission to a political fundraiser (Quittschreiber, 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Smartphone: A cell phone with advanced capabilities.

Digital Divide: A difference in Internet usage based on access and skills, linked to demographic variables including income and education.

Facebook: An online social network service.

Blog (Web Log): An online diary or journal.

Twitter: A microblogging service.

Ground War: More personalized strategies for mobilizing voters that includes activities such as door-to-door canvasing and phone calls.

Air Wars: Using mass media such as Internet, television or radio to reach voters.

Mobile App: A software application created to run on mobile devices.

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