GOP future to include app store, ‘culture of data,’ and hackathons

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Republicans are looking to place a serious bet on digital and data technology for future campaigns, according to a much-anticipated report by the Republican National Committee unveiled Monday.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced the results of the party’s new plan — The Growth & Opportunity Project — on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington after nearly three months of post-election focus groups, surveys, conference calls and meetings.

In addition to a new focus on party messaging and improved outreach to minorities, the report highlighted the need to create a “culture of data and learning” regarding use of technology, and an “environment of intellectual curiosity” within the party.

“As it makes clear,” Priebus said in his remarks, “there’s no one reason why we lost.”

The memory of the Romney campaign’s failed get-out-the-vote tool Project ORCA, placed in stark contrast to the Obama campaign’s sophisticated data analytics operation, has weighed heavily on party members.

Better messaging through digital advertising and organization using technology were seen as opportunities for the party to improve upon.

Priebus is hoping, however, that the recommendations of the report will allow the Republican party to “enter 2014 and 2016 with a completely revitalized approach to campaign mechanics.”

Various aspects of the plan have already been made known to the public in the days leading up to the announcement, including the intent to hire an RNC chief technology officer that would build and lead a nationwide data team.

The RNC also hinted that it would allow Republican candidates, state and party organizations, “friendly third-party organizations” and Republican vendors access to voter data through application programming interfaces (APIs).

The APIs would allow the party’s proprietary voter data to be used in web and mobile apps for better information sharing and analysis across the party. Such apps would be offered in an internal Republican campaign app store “for free and for profit,” much like the Apple App Store.

Those revelations alone lead panelists during a breakout session on campaign technology at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week Friday to cautiously commend the RNC’s recent efforts.

The report — which mentions “data” 197 times, “digital” 90 times and “technology” 42 times — also establishes the need for generating better data, and better training for party members on how to understand data. The report also calls for the creation of a Data Analytics Institute.

“According to our survey of GOP professionals, ‘data analytics’ was ranked as the top priority among 26 areas for improvement in 2014 and 2016, with 35 percent of respondents listing it as one of their top three priorities”, said the report.

“Using the GOP’s data, the data analytics institute would work to develop a specific set of tests for 2013 and 2014 — tests on voter registration, persuasion, GOTV, and voter mobilization — that will then be adopted into future programs to ensure that our voter contact and targeting dollars are spent on proven performance,” it said.

The party has been working to build better relationships with Silicon Valley over the past several years.

Priebus, however, announced that he plans to establish an RNC field office in Silicon Valley to further develop that relationship, in addition to holding hackathons — or software developer competitions — in cities across the country considered leading technology centers.

The RNC plan also looks to establish an RNC fellows program “to recruit data, digital, and tech ‘fellows’ from college campuses, targeting potential graduates in fields such as computer science and mathematics.”

The need to better communicate with youth voters was also highlighted by the report, noting that all “digital and data efforts should have the young voter as one of our key targeted end users in all our products in development.”

It also stated that the party should empower “young, creative people to have a seat at the table on all digital issues,” recognizing that technology is “second nature to young voters.”

“Using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram is important, but we also need to be actively looking for and utilizing the newest and most cutting-edge social media platforms to engage this generation,” said the report.

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