As Race Tightens, Digital May Be The Deciding Factor In Swing States

josephlavanAdExchanger Politics” is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.

Today’s column is written by Joseph Lavan, vice president of data and insights at Netmining.

We are officially in election crunch time. In the weeks leading up to the first presidential debate and in the days after, campaign rhetoric has ramped up aggressively.

This is in addition to the persistent campaign themes of email security (or lack thereof), an unwillingness to share tax returns, the line between national security versus profiling and the overall sanity levels of our prospective president. You get it.

The candidates have a much clearer view of the challenges in front of them, and they are leaving no bullets unfired to sway those remaining undecided voters. It’s around this time in the election cycle that the swing states start to get a larger share of attention. This unique election is no different.

In the presidential race, Clinton and Trump are deadlocked across 13 battleground states that could swing the election. Anything can change over 24 hours, and no lead appears to be safe. Ohio has already gone back and forth in the past month, while the Clinton campaign reportedly opted out of buying local ads in Virginia, where Trump is gaining ground. This is happening amid continued grumbling from down-ballot Republicans who have felt for a while that potential low turnouts in these states could cost them their House and Senate seats.

On the surface, the inability to swing these states away from the Democrats is a potential nightmare scenario for the GOP. In contrast, the Clinton campaign has chosen to downplay some of these swing states that they feel are slipping away or are already won. And that brings opportunity for Trump, as well as those congressional Republicans whose seats are in jeopardy, to win back any lost ground. It wouldn’t be surprising if Trump and the Republicans with whom he doesn’t closely align begin to adopt similar tactics and strategies – albeit with different messages – to make up ground and hedge their bets against whatever happens come November.

Actually doing this requires a commitment to spending, and Trump needs to get in the digital game. While his “self-funded” campaign was very admirable, when you look at the spend discrepancy between Trump and Clinton, it isn’t a shock that Clinton has edged ahead in some key areas. Trump certainly has his core supporters, and it’s been fascinating how his sound bites and Twitter account have served as the viral marketing components of his media mix. However, at some point Trump must stop preaching to his choir and began converting some of those in the middle of the road.

Trump’s core strategy of TV is a great way to hit his primary demo. But when putting that in the lens of converting younger voters, cord cutters and millennials, it’s unclear how effective TV will ultimately be. Using digital as the scalpel to TV’s hammer to reach that younger audience and convey points of view around specific issues is an area that the GOP or, frankly, both parties could be better mastering.

One of the most underused strategies across all digital media is the idea of audience suppression. While many count registered Republicans and Democrats as guaranteed votes in the run-up to November, that’s not always the case, especially in an election with such polarizing candidates.

By using primary voting data and suppressing the audience of those who voted for Trump and Clinton in the primary, the candidates and parties can not only reaffirm a vote in November but also continue the conversation with those who perhaps voted for Sanders or Kasich earlier this year to how their voice is still heard.

This is the one-to-one precision that digital can bring, and it aligns well with the idea of speaking to potentially disenfranchised party members. Marrying targeting to creative that deals with specific voter issues can go a long way toward steadying the ship and swinging votes in the battleground states.

Overall, TV is still a great broad-reach tool, but time is running out for broad tactics. There are about five weeks left until the election, and candidates need to spend efficiently and wisely to make up ground in swing states to get their message out. This means identifying media that attract voters outside of their core constituency, and adopting messaging and targeting strategies to appeal to these voters. It’ll surely be an interesting ride.

Follow Netmining (@Netmining) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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