Technology has certainly been a driving force in the last 20 years, but there are still large disparities in how technologically savvy Americans are. The Millennial generation grew up on the Internet and arguably feels more comfortable checking their inbox than the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Meanwhile, the baby boomers have had to adjust to and grow with the Internet. My parents, for example, are much more likely to read a piece of snail mail than open what they would call a “spammy” email. My grandmothers, however, can hardly log onto a computer much less be targeted by a political ad. She loves getting mail though. That wide range of how we consume news and interact with the world poses an interesting challenge to advocacy groups and campaigns.
Direct mail and knocking on doors is costly — both monetarily and in manpower hours — but when they are used efficiently, they are most effective among the older generations. And those are the people who actually go vote.
For my generation, we are more likely to check Twitter everyday than check our physical mailboxes each evening. We move more frequently than our grandparents and parents did — making it difficult to target individuals — and we interact with our friends and families via the Internet or technology almost exclusively.
The way that Millennial’s and Generation Y’ers communicate and interact with the world has changed; therefore the way that advocacy groups and campaigns interact with them must begin to evolve. The tricky part of that seemingly simple equation is that the voting power still lies with older generations. So for candidates who have limited funding available, who do they choose to focus on? Reaching likely voters in a personal way through direct mail and door-to-door knocking? Or reaching many times more technologically savvy people who may not be as likely to vote?
As David Karpf points out in his book, The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy, the way that advocacy groups have reached activists and others in their communities has been evolving for many years. He talks about dismissing MoveOn, but then realizing that today, it is a mobilizing force. I believe that the same will be said of Internet advertising by candidates in the next decade. As the technology-savvy generations age into the age range where they are the driving voters, campaigns will be able to focus their energy and resources differently. In the meantime, however, they still must target older voters with traditional advertising methods if they hope to reach them at all wile still engaging with young voters online. I don’t know that it is a question of efficiency or one way is better than another. The forms of communication have simply changed and you must speak to voters in a language that they understand — whether that be gif’s, snapchats, shaking hands, or mailings.