2012 Election Points to Hyperlocal Future in Politics

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Election 2012The story that major media told about President Obama’s election victory was how the Obama Campaign’s superior ground game trumped the air attack of the big SuperPacs and other large Republican donors. It’s a story even better explained in “The Victory Lab,” a wonky but engrossing primer on how the Obama Team used social psychology to drive victory in 2008. The lessons for hyperlocal in the election, too, are strong.

For starters, election coverage at the local level is going to grow in importance. Here’s why: The shift from air attack to the tech-enabled ground game means that, in all likelihood, the era of declining voter turnouts are over, in my opinion. With growing turnouts come a more broadly-engaged electorate not just on political matters but on local politics that constitute the true bread-and-butter issues for many towns and small cities.

Not coincidentally, the media that has covered hyperlocal politics — small papers and small TV and radio stations — have been largely decimated in urban areas, causing massive declines in staffing that make it impossible to “flood the box” with political coverage during the election runup. Into this breach will step the hyperlocal news sites, who have both the low-cost news coverage production machinery but also the institutional knowledge that is in decline in local broadcast vehicles and is on the wane at local hard-copy papers.

Then there is the case for hyperlocal advertising. Like never before, the political wunderkinds have begun to identify down to the zip code which areas have high concentrations of swing voters or potential Democrats or Republicans that may be less likely to turn out and require a nudge to get off the couch.

Fed by the rapid increases in capability of online advertising platforms to execute detailed microtargeting strategies, this type of advertising will see huge benefit in the next election cycle. (My other prediction here: content marketing will start to make inroads as an online election campaign strategy). Should this advertising bump materialize, then hyperlocal news sites will get a nice boost in upcoming political cycles which will be cash rich but target poor.

Taking this one step further, many of the same tools that are incredibly useful for hyperlocal merchants can be retooled for hyperlocal politics — either with similar tech or by actually repurposing gamification and check-ins to drive activism. The Obama Campaign delivered a remarkable Facebook application that allowed anyone online to joint a virtual phone bank and make calls to targeted voters in the Battleground States. It was literally push-button simple. Tools like that, which make local (and out-of-state) interactions even more simple to orchestrate will further localize the elections game.

Personally, all of this is very exciting to me. Local politics that drives real involvement can only be good for the communities that become more informed and for the country as a whole.

Alex Salkever is an executive at a cloud computing company and a former technology editor of BusinessWeek.com. The views expressed in his column are his own and not those of his employer. His Personal Fight column appears every second Wednesday on Street Fight.