Donald Trump’s election proved and disproved a lot of political gospels, but one key issue no one is talking about is how the election underscored the growing inefficacy of political tv ads. Trump was wildly outspent on television in the primaries and then again by Hillary Clinton in the general. It didn’t matter.
Part of the problem was his opponents’ lack of a compelling message, but part of the problem is that fewer and fewer voters watch tv commercials.
Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and good old fashioned DVR, other than senior citizens watching traditional news broadcasts and people watching live sports, tv ads just don’t reach that many voters anymore.
And since the tv buy is around 80% of the spend for any significant campaign (Congress, Mayor, Governor, President), as campaigns start to realize that ads hold less and less value (and as the political consultants who make their money on ad spends eventually age out and retire), campaigns simply won’t need as much money.
Sure, digital ad spending will fill some of the vacuum but most of the current spend will go away.
That’s one key to reducing the influence of money in politics. The other is turnout. Approximately 55% of eligible voters actually voted in the most recent presidential election. Needless to say, right now, turnout in most races ranges between low and abysmal (for example, average turnout in a New York City Council race hovers around 15%).
Politicians aren’t stupid. They know who votes and because staying in office is their top priority, their choices and actions are designed to appeal strictly to two groups: (1) that 15% who actually vote in their race; and (2) major special interest groups whose money can easily impact a low turnout race (that’s why unions have so much power).
I’ve spent much of the last five years working with startups like Uber and FanDuel to mobilize our customers and partners to advocate politically. And because we make it so convenient for people to speak out (they can tweet or email their views right from the platform), it’s actually easier to get people to advocate for a for profit company than to vote in an election.
That will all change when people can vote on their phones.
If everyone had a week to vote (or even longer) and all you had to do was log in and Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and every other platform bugged you incessantly until you voted, most people would vote.
And if turnout then went from 15% to 70%, politicians would quickly adapt their views to represent 70% of their constituents rather than 15%.
That would dramatically reduce the ability of any special interest to materially dictate how a politician acts on any one issue. This won’t all happen in one fell swoop (especially mobile voting), but if we spend our time and energy focused on turnout and ease of voting rather than just agitating and suing for campaign finance legislation and litigation, we’ll ultimately accomplish a lot more.
For those of us in politics who care about broadening representative democracy, focusing on mobile voting (both by creating a platform that ensures that you’re you and preserves secrecy of your ballot and then convincing jurisdictions to adopt it) is the only way to generate the actual outcome of a better, truer government for and by the people. More people voting and fewer donors mattering is how we get there.
The cost side of the equation is already happening (I’m pretty sure we can count on Reed Hastings to keep doing his part). Trump proved that. Now let’s solve the demand side – and finally get the kind of democracy – and government – we all deserve.