The New Political Battleground: Your Social Network

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Editor’s Note: David Binetti is the CEO and co-founder of Votizen, a consumer technology company based in Mountain View, CA focussed on giving voters a greater voice. You can follow Binetti on Twitter @dbinetti.

I have a stark fact to share with the majority of registered voters in the United States: your vote is worthless. Yes, that’s right—worthless.

Due to the “winner take all” nature of this country’s Electoral College system, if you live in California, New York, Idaho, or any other state that safely votes for one party, your vote in the Presidential election is essentially treated as a pro forma. Instead, campaigns focus their real attention (and war chests) on targeting a small number of swing states where the outcome could go either way, ignoring the vast majority of voters.

Social networks, however, are changing this dynamic in new and exciting ways. We now have the ability through our friends, followers, and fans to reach the voters in particular geographic areas that campaigns find so valuable. For example, you may live in California now, but if you grew up in Florida (or Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or any of the other 2012 battleground states), you’re likely to be connected to the exact people whose votes are so prized by the campaigns. As a result, we are likely to see a Presidential campaign where many citizens are valued more for their personal networks than for their actual votes.

Reaching the right voters can be very expensive. Recently in the Iowa Caucuses, Republican candidates directly spent $15 million on television advertising, an average $130 per vote. (Rick Perry was particularly generous, shelling out $480 for each conversion). If you can reach a particular audience that a campaign needs to win, you’re in a position of influence that will become ever more valuable as voters turn away from television as their primary source of information. In terms of raw numbers, a person with several hundred friends, fans, or followers in Florida could represent literally tens of thousands of dollars in equivalent spending to campaigns on the hunt for votes in a crucial state.

Considering that more than $2 billion will be spent over the next ten months of 2012 alone primarily in these swing states, your network may represent a new, untapped marketplace; a digital battleground where the Oval Office could be won or lost. And if you don’t think a small number of votes can make a difference in these places, then you obviously are too young to remember the incredible 2000 Presidential Election.

We are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Just over four years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama leveraged technology to help him win the Presidency with tools like online call lists and donation processing. Today, citizens are banding together via Tumblr, integrating with tools like Twilio, and directly contacting their representatives to lobby for a Startup Visa and against SOPA, spreading their messages via Twitter hashtags with incredible speed — and getting results. Political messaging and pressures are changing fast within new media channels and will accelerate through Election Day, as citizens continue to use social media in new and innovative ways.

So take heart. Your individual vote may not be worth anything in the Electoral College, but the value of your network could be immeasurable.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Flickr / George Parilla