Mobilise - The end game of getting out the votes

At the time of writing we're five weeks away from the start of advance voting and four weeks from overseas voting, so it's a timely opportunity to look at the end game of political campaign communications - mobilising your supporters and voters to turn up and cast their ballots for you. In political circles this is known as GOTV - Get out the vote.

Mobilise communications fall into two specific activities. The first is Enrolment. As a political campaign you want to make sure your supporters are correctly enrolled to vote, so there's a huge premium on political parties to push this. Given voter behaviour and demographics are the way they are, this has traditionally been less of a concern for right-wing political parties whose voter demographics tend to skew towards older New Zealanders who are more sedentary in their lifestyles so their enrolment details are usually up to date. Left-wing parties, whose voter demographics tend the other way towards younger, more geographically mobile people, thus have more of a challenge on their hands.

This is why over the past couple of election cycles we've seen differing efforts in New Zealand to mobilise these voters. While there's debate over the political leanings of some of these efforts, groups like Rock Enrol or FFS Vote (For Future's Sake) are examples of third-party attempts to mobilise voters.

The parties themselves take slightly different approaches. The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, for example, put a significant amount of effort in trying to engage overseas voters, as is evidenced by their having an "international candidate" whose job is to secure votes from the Kiwi diaspora around the world. Likewise, Labour is showing signs of trying to engage Kiwis living in Australia with a recent Facebook event calling for volunteers in Melbourne.

If this was 2014 you'd see this activity quite visibly ramp up, but 2017 might be a somewhat different beast. With improvements in social media and online ad targeting since 2014, the majority of the Mobilise content that's going to be produced from an online perspective is going to be below-the-line advertising.

The rationale for this is pretty simple and somewhat cynical. Political parties only want to mobilise their own supporters to vote, so the more you can focus your GOTV activities to focus on your core supporters, the better off in theory you'll be. What all the parties will be doing at the moment is figuring out exactly who they need to talk to in those final three weeks of the campaign in order to mobilise them as voters.

To achieve this from a social media perspective they'll look at all the voter data they've collected via the previous two phases of communication - Persuade and Participate - and match that up with online advertising tools. Whether it's plugging carefully curated email lists into Facebook's ad tool, selectively buying Google AdWords, or targeted advertisements on major news sites, you can generally assume that if you see an ad from any of the major political parties (National, Labour, the Greens and NZ First), you're seeing it because you match some type of demographic, behavioural, or geographic filter that suggests you might vote for them.

While the advertising tools on social media here aren't as detailed as are available in the United States and United Kingdom, they're still detailed enough when partnered with your own data to allow campaigners to be pretty confident they're talking to the right people. It won't always be perfect, for instance I've found Facebook's geographic filters here aren't particularly accurate, but it's much more cost effective at reaching a far greater number of people.

If you doubt the importance of this, you only need to look at the U.S. election. Donald Trump not only campaigned more in key battleground rust belt states, but ultimately was able to mobilise a greater number of supporters to vote than Hillary Clinton, enabling him to benefit from the quirks of the electoral college.