By Audrey Sullivan
With the abundance of candidate sponsored mobile apps available for the first time this election, tech based websites and app enthusiasts are quick to brand 2012 as the “mobile election”. However, a recent study by Pew found that very few people, just 8% of cellphone users, are using election apps on their mobile devices. With this data, does 2012 truly deserve the “mobile election” title, and should those running for office be focusing on what this new mobile contingency has to say?
Yes. The numbers are impressive: over 88% of Americans own mobile phones, about half of which are smartphones. While they may not be using these devices to engage directly with candidates through texts and apps, they certainly are using them to post, read, and comment on social media sites. About 45% of smartphone users who are registered voters are doing so, engaging with friends, media outlets, celebrities, and political figures to gather information pertaining to the election. You only have to look as far as your Twitter feed on the night of the first debate for proof that the social media world is being used as a political forum, and that voter’s reactions on these platforms have influenced the media and campaigns at large (#bigbird, anyone?).
While their apps may be slightly overlooked, Obama has a mind-blowing 20.9 million followers on Twitter and 30.8 million likers on Facebook, with Romney reaching a much smaller but still impressive 1.4 and 9.4 million respectively. Mobile usage has made it possible for the candidates to directly reach millions of their voters, and capitalize on what seems to be most important to them.
Aside from media engagement, phones are increasingly utilized for fact checking, with 35% of cell phone using their phones to search the validity of candidate’s statements. A quick Google search will yield more opinions (and possibly more truth) than the candidates may be willing or able to give themselves.
Starting in August, both candidates began accepting donations by SMS. This has greatly increased the success of their text message calls for donations, as voters can pay with pre-registered credit cards. Because Obama tends to get most of his donations from people giving small amounts, this has helped his campaign more than Romney’s, who relies more heavily on larger gifts. However, Mitt has had his share of success in the mobile world: his app “Mitt’s VP”, which allowed downloaders to learn his vice presidential pick before just about anyone else, was wildly successful. He has also successfully used mobile advertising to promote app downloads, and is currently one of Facebook’s largest advertisers.
The Pew survey also states that while only 5% of cellphone users have signed up to directly receive texts from campaign related groups, 19% have sent election related texts to family and friends, showing cellphones as a clear platform for political discussion. So while not everyone wants to see Romney’s face on their home screen or receive daily texts from Obama, they do want to hear what their peers have to say and are using their mobile devices to do so.
Political chatter and information is showing a clear trend towards mobile, and with the smartphone demographic growing 10% year on year, the mobile population shows no signs of slowing down. Any candidate who fails to capitalize on communicating with this increasingly large group of engaged voters should probably hire new strategists. Welcome to 2012: the Mobile Election.