When I was at the RNC, we got a visit from someone who is now the CEO of a major technology company, and who’s probably one of the five astutest players in the industry overall. When asked what the “next big thing” would be, the answer was “some combination of mobile and social networking.” Facebook was just catching on at the time, but that precise statement was a dead-on description of Twitter, which was maybe a few weeks old then. My knowledge of the technology industry at the time was pretty much limited to reading TechCrunch, but the prediction seemed perfectly obvious. If anything, it seemed too conservative. But it’s exactly what happened.
The same is true of digital politics. For the most part, we are not doing things in 2013 that would have seemed completely foreign a decade ago — but we have learned to do them better and at scale. For instance, email is still king. The main difference now is that the downside of screwing it up system-wide is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Take for instance what was probably the most imporant innovation of 2012, using large-scale analytical survey modeling to paint a real-time picture of the electorate. Dynamic modeling was an innovation… first introduced in Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign. This was five years ago. Republicans who claim to have been blindsided by the Obama 2012 machine forget that it was only an iteration of the 2008 Obama campaign, which digitally was an iteration of the 2003-4 Howard Dean campaign, whose ability to raise money via email was learned from MoveOn.org, which was founded in 1998. (I highly recommend Daniel Kreiss’s Taking Our Country Back for an unvarnished look at how all of this unfolded.) The progress of technology in politics is not a story of dramatic “leapfrogs” where people scrapped what had been done before, but of learning, tweaking, and iterating. There were no shortcuts. 2012 was a product of 2008 which was a product of 2004 which was a product of 1998.