Building out a technological infrastructure that isn’t so centralized and that can adapt over time, like that open-source API platform the RNC had been working on, could counteract some of the issues the national party has experienced with the changing of hands. “There’s very little continuity because chairmen come in and they want to make their mark, and they bring in their own people and we’re in this perpetual state of resetting,” Krohn says.
Resources are already going into digital initiatives. One of the GOP’s congressional campaign committees has begun to beef up its digital game. The National Republican Congressional Committee expanded its digital team from three to 10 members, with the committee billing it as the largest such team in Republican politics. Other strategists are starting to explore ways to utilize the behavioral sciences, much like the Democrats did in 2012.
Develop and test like crazy in 2013.
If Republicans want to get ahead of the Democrats’ digital game by 2014’s midterms, their best chance is during the off-year 2013 gubernatorial and senate special elections. It’s a time when the GOP could develop and fund applications and tech solutions.
“Once we hit January 2014, it’s going to be heads down on focusing on the midterms, and people aren’t going to have the tolerance level to experiment and test or fund new capabilities, because we as a party fall into a traditional campaign cycle,” Krohn said.
The Virginia governor’s race, in particular, could end up a technological battleground.
The gubernatorial race between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe is shaping up to be very competitive, and could serve as a bellwether for the 2014 midterms. State law allows unlimited contributions, which could help fund some proposed innovations.
But remember, technology isn’t the silver bullet.
The Democratic technology edge wasn’t the only reason President Obama won in 2012.
“We can target people really well, we can build systems that allow us to have a lot of data about every voter,” says Anderson. “We also have to make sure that the message we’re delivering and the policy behind that message is worthy and relevant to younger generations.”
Of all of the identity crises the GOP is grappling with, the tech gap is probably the least controversial. Many people within the party acknowledge it’s a problem, says Domenech. “There is no big group force of people saying we don’t need to do anything on tech,” he said.
But, he added, “That’s separate from the message part. You have to have a message to connect with people. Otherwise, just being better at the connection part is not going to be enough.”
CORRECTION: The RNC's open-source API platform was developed in the lead up to the 2010 election, not 2008.