Political parties and direct marketing: connecting voters and candidates more eﬀectively
At the end of the 20th century political parties worldwide followed a trend towards the centralization of campaigning. In the US, for example, political parties centralized certain fundraising and marketing eﬀorts in their Washington, DC arms – the two national committees and their counterparts for House and Senate candidates – even as the local organizations that once served to connect citizens to government became less important to voters and to nominations. At the same time, political campaigning used the more sophisticated tools of political marketing, particularly direct marketing. Direct marketing, a pioneering tactic of international companies such as Amway and Tupperware, micro-targeting and social networking replaced the tactics of the old party system and, when aggressively used in political campaigns, hold out the promise for a return to locally active organizations. In the US, they were ﬁrst seen in the Republican congressional campaign of 2002 and the Bush re-election campaign of 2004, which demonstrated that highly eﬀective micro-targeting of voters combined with direct marketing strategies could ﬁnd more and turn out a greater number of partisan voters. The same principals of direct marketing were also used by Vermont governor Howard Dean during the 2004 Democratic primaries, and then to form the social media strategy of the Obama for President campaign. Nevertheless, despite the way that the Obama campaign was said to mobilize grassroots
campaigning, as a new round of campaigns for Congress and president get underway in advance of the 2012 national elections, the US party system remains largely candidate-centered, with fundraising and messaging centralized in Washington. This chapter will both discuss the nature of direct marketing and its use by parties so far, as well as debating its potential to reconnect voters to local party organizations and campaigns, making the conversations among citizens and between them and candidates much more vibrant.