This week both the Romney and Obama campaigns released new apps into the iOS app store. We’ve spent some time with both apps and here is our review:
The Romney app, called “Mitt’s VP”, is designed to notify users as soon as Mitt Romney announces his choice for Vice Presidential nominee, a clear throwback to the 2008 Obama campaign tactic to get supporters to sign up with a phone number to get an SMS update as soon as candidate Obama announced his VP pick, Joe Biden.
Users who download the Romney VP app are required to submit their name, email address, zip code and optionally, their mobile phone number, to get access to the app. Once you do that, all you see is a screen saying ”Coming Soon” and some text saying that although no one knows when Romney will make his announcement, users who activate push notifications will find out about his choice before “the press and just about everyone else (except maybe Ann)”.
(Hopefully the nominee will find out before we do.)
Once I get my much awaited push notification, it’s not at all clear what the app will do next. There is a tab for following Romney on Twitter and a tab to donate to the campaign, which takes the user out of the app and into Safari to view a mobile-friendly donation page on Romney’s campaign website.
The Obama app, called “Obama” is somewhat like its 2008 app, the first known iOS app for a major political campaign which was released not long after the App Store itself opened. Obama’s newest campaign app is full of features.
Digital Director for the Obama campaign said:
“With the new app, you can easily find local volunteer events near you, get a list of voters to talk to in your neighborhood, and access all the information you need to spread the word: from President Obama’s record to state-specific voting info. You can also stay up to date with breaking news, which you can instantly share with friends and family using Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messaging”
When you launch the app, it loads a main tab called “Featured” which has curated news stories about the campaign, Obama or Romney. Each item has custom share buttons which generate personalized and descriptive emails or tweets. For example the sharing links to the Vanity Fair article investigating Mitt Romney’s overseas accounts opens up an email that reads:
Did you know that Mitt Romney would be the first president in our history with millions of dollars stashed in offshore tax havens?
Take a look at this article from Vanity Fair, investigating Mitt Romney’s mysterious offshore accounts: [link]
Rather then just generate a link and send it via email/Twitter, the Obama app adds a subtle amount of customization so that the recipient of the email or tweet may be persuaded to actually click and read the link.
In addition to the “Featured tab” there are tabs for “Info”, “Events”, “Action”, and “Donate”.
The “Info” tab gives users the option of finding more about “Issues”, “Local Impact”, “Voting Info” or “Latest News”.
The “Issues” menu gives standard campaign shpeal about what President Obama plans to do across a wide range of issues from taxes and the budget to healthcare and foreign policy. Content here is light. You’re not going to see long and detailed policy briefs. Just short snippets that are Tweetable.
The “Local Impact” menu offers up information about outcomes in my home state of Virginia. I should probably feel good about these things and attribute that good feeling to the Obama Administration. In some cases the outcomes are directly related to Obama Administration policies and in some cases they are generically good things which happened during the Obama administration, but may have been a result of lots of other factors. Topics covered include health care, energy, job growth and tax savings.
If you’re logged and click on “Voting Info”, the app gives you information about voting in your home state. I found out about what time polls open and close in Virginia, and that I need to bring an ID to the polling station. I found out that the deadline for voter registration in Virginia is October 15 and also some information about absentee voting rules in Virginia.
The “Events” tab uses the phone’s GPS location to list campaign events that are close to your physical location such as phone banks and volunteer meetups. Events are organized by date or distance and appear to draw from the organizing platform BarackObama.com. You can flag events, RSVP for events and plot events on a map.
The “Action Tab” gives three options to help the campaign: register voters, become a volunteer or canvass. Clicking on “Register Voters” and “Become a Volunteer” takes you to a website in Safari. The Volunteer link actually routes you to a new feature on BarackObama.com, the “Dashboard” which is an enhanced version of the campaign’s grassroots organizing platform.
Probably the money feature of this app is the “Canvass” screen which is integrated with the Obama campaign’s grassroots organizing tool called “Dashboard”. Click on “Canvass” and, if you’re logged into the app, you will see a map with pinpoints for households in your vicinity that are in need of canvassing.
If you click on a pin you get a little amount of detail about who lives there including age, gender and party affiliation. (We would probably worry about privacy issues here, a lot. But the fact is voter information is publicly available and is being used by a bunch of companies to improve targeting and GOTV strategies, such as NGP and Votizen).
If you click on that person’s name you get a new screen with a canvass script and easy to click menu items to provide feedback on how the visit went.
There is a menu that let’s you log who the person plans to support in the 2012 election. This presumably feeds back into the Obama campaign’s GOTV efforts. And there is a menu that asks if the person wants to volunteer for the campaign which probably generates an email to that person with ways they can get involved with the campaign.
There is also “Detail” screen which lets you add an email address into that persons record and jot down any other notes about the visit.
Like the Romney app, the “Donate” tab on the Obama app takes you into Safari to a mobile friendly contribution page on barackobama.com.
The Romney app is fishing for data and provides limited value to the voter/supporter who downloads. While it is nice to hear about the VP nominee, as a tactic the Romney campaign is not innovating, especially given where we are at in the 2012 app/campaign ecosystem. If the app is successful in getting signups then it may be worth the effort and money spent on developing it. However, given the effort that it takes to get someone to actually download an app and keep retuning to it, one wonders if the Romney campaign has more plans for this piece of campaign technology. However, it is getting late in the campaign cycle for Romney to be playing around with prototypes and they will need to move quickly to build awareness and adoption.
The Obama app seems to be on the cutting edge of digital campaign technology, integrating databases of volunteers, walk lists and canvassing priorities in a simple tool that allows volunteers to pound the electoral pavement with minimal supervision and overhead. It’s the proverbial bridge between the offline and online campaign - which many digital strategists believe is the key to using technology to win elections. If the Obama campaign’s strength is its ground game, then the app definitely reflects the campaign’s belief in its army of volunteers to turn supporters in voters.