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Can the GOP hack it?

Every few weeks, an article or conference panel pops up asking the question “Can the GOP close the digital divide?” Gone are the days when such conversations began with the premise, “Is there a digital divide?”

These discussions inevitably hark back to the 2012 election, where the Obama campaign used the full weight of incumbency to build a world-class technology team with the time and mandate to build an infrastructure that united the campaign’s data like no one had ever done before. They integrated data, effectively analyzed it, and spoke to voters using messages based on their insights.

Not to take away from what the Obama campaign accomplished, but that was almost a year ago, an eternity in the Moore’s Law-driven world of exponentially changing technology. The way people think about – and use – technology develops rapidly and continuously. For instance, the number of people who use a mobile phone to access the internet increased by 60.3% in just the last 2 years.

So it’s not enough to simply catch up to the Obama campaign’s 2012 techniques. It’s about leveraging the latest technology to build relationships with voters. In our case, while Voter Gravity was used successfully in various campaigns around the country last year, we have launched a new version with brand-new features and functionality. From integrated Esri maps that allow campaigns to draw lists on a tablet to integrated phone banking and mobile canvassing, the technology available to conservative candidates for voter contact is more advanced and user-friendly than it was even a few months ago.

We are not alone in this initiative. The RNC, having snagged two key hires in Chief Technology Officer Andy Barkett, a former Facebook engineer, and Chief Digital Officer Chuck Defeo, is building an infrastructure that will empower candidates with new capabilities. They have even opened a Silicon Valley-based technology office to enlist the world’s best software engineers to the Party’s efforts.

Of course, technology is not an end in and of itself. If there is a danger for conservatives, it is a false belief that simply having powerful, new technology tools and resources will bring about electoral success. The real objective must be to leverage these newly available tools to deliver very specific, targeted messages to voters who are hungry for an authentic message of empowerment and opportunity.

The goal of our efforts is not to create the coolest web application (although we think it is) but to help campaigns build better, stronger, more authentic relationships with voters. We believe that once a campaign engages a voter directly with a clear, authentic message, that voter will not only cast a ballot, but also become an advocate for the candidate.

A culture of innovation is quickly moving through Republican campaigns. As a result, the conversation will change. The discussion in op-eds and conference panels will shift. The outcome of elections will change as well, as long as we continue to embrace not only technology innovations but also what those innovations mean to sparking political engagement and winning elections.