The Obama campaign launched a new app on Tuesday, an ambitious effort to bring the tools of a local field office to iPhones across the country.
The app marks one of those potentially bland campaign developments that—unlike the weekly gaffes that draw so much media attention—could actually move a lot of votes in November. Obama’s app is unusual because it melds technology and field organizing more than any other political campaign, including Obama’s earlier efforts.
This is the first time that voter canvassing lists have been provided to volunteers through an app, another step in the campaign’s attempt to deputize volunteers with responsibilities traditionally reserved to political staff. (These include the “super volunteers” that Obama field guru Jon Carson credits for unprecedented turnout operations in Ohio last cycle.) Now volunteers can not only download local field resources, they can upload their results in real time, to track whether a voter backs Romney or report the phone number of a resident who registered to vote for the first time. Those data enter Obama’s virtual field database, called “Dashboard,” and are synced with the campaign’s programs for voter persuasion and turnout.
Imagine a volunteer knocking on a door. Now, instead of taking notes on a clipboard, delivering them to a field office and waiting for a staffer to enter the data, the volunteer simply punches results into an iPhone. Pressing the digit “3” indicates that a voter is undecided, for example, while a “2” conveys that the person is leaning towards Obama. And nabbing a “1” means the volunteer found a fellow strong supporter. (The number system tracks the usual scale that field campaigns used before the web—the origin of the saying that good organizers turn “twos to ones.”) Or, after a more detailed chat, a volunteer can upload extra notes that the campaign might use to tailor its persuasion or mobilization efforts to that individual. A “3” might receive persuasion arguments about the president’s tax cuts, while a “1” usually gets a mobilization message—the location of polling places, perhaps, or reminders about voter ID requirements.