Techies see Opportunity at GOP Convention

Evan Halper reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Few things scream throwback like a contested political convention, an event that calls to mind conniving party bosses, clouds of stale cigar smoke and throngs of activists in Uncle Sam hats passionately waiving homemade signs.

“But while some of those retro touches will surely present themselves if Republicans arrive in Cleveland for their national convention in July with no clear nominee, the X factor in the fight could be an entirely new frontier of politics: the new technology of hunting for delegates.

A cottage industry of political techies already has emerged to pitch their wares to campaigns. They’re promising that in the weeks leading up to the convention they can enable candidates to find and persuade the right delegates and then arm deputies on the convention floor with thousands of data points about delegates’ ideological leanings, social media proclivities and even TV viewing habits.”

Mr. Halper indicated that, “A contested convention would test the extent to which technology can be leveraged to push the outcome of a political event and the speed at which such technology could be built and deployed.”

The LA Times article added that, “Candidates will walk into the convention hall with tools unimagined four decades ago that they can use in a race to, among other things, find out everything they can about every delegate and develop a lightning-fast platform on which to share that knowledge with floor whips at crunch time.

“‘There will be tons of [companies] crowding this space,’ said Brittany Kaiser, director of program development for Cambridge Analytica, a firm that has accumulated thousands of data points – from Starbucks preferences to vacation histories – on each of about 240 million American voters. ‘It is going to be incredibly important to understand everything possible about every single delegate.'”

Mr. Halper also pointed out that, “Still, much of the technology that would be used on the convention floor does not yet even exist in beta form. As the GOP race tightens, and the likelihood of a contested convention increases, some political technologists foresee a weeks-long hackathon taking shape, as firms rush to get a piece of the business.

“Patrick Ruffini, one of the few Republican digital strategists who has actually developed software successfully used by a candidate in a convention – albeit at the state level, in Virginia – said he anticipates a stampede.

“The challenge for the campaigns, he said, will be sorting out the useful pitches from the deluge of marketing malarkey that tech firms tend to muster around such occasions.”

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