GOP Faces Its Own Digital Divide

Susan Hall

If you haven’t read The Wall Street Journal’s take on the GOP’s “Scathing Self-Analysis,” it’s well worth the time. The GOP’s 100-page report, based on focus groups, found that folks see the Grand Old Party as "scary," "narrow minded," "out of touch," and as the party of "stuffy, old men."

It cites data and technology among the areas in which it needs to make up ground. A second story (subscription required) outlines a plan led by political strategist Karl Rove and Silicon Valley investors to create a digital platform for targeting voters and donors.

The trouble with the plan, though, is that the Republicans could have trouble rounding up the technical wizards to pull it off, according to TechCrunch. It cites research finding that often the best hackers want nothing to do with the GOP.

My colleague Carl Weinschenk pointed out just after the November election that among donors at Google, 97 percent of the money went to President Obama’s campaign. Obama also received 91 percent of the donations from Apple employees and 89 percent from workers at eBay.


Veteran California GOP consultant Kevin Spillane, in a San Jose Mercury News article, described Silicon Valley IT pros this way:

"Technologists are often single, socially moderate-to-liberal, much more secular than the population as a whole, and those demographics are a problem for the Republican Party right now."

Research from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society found these differences between liberals and conservatives on the Internet:

Liberals are oriented toward community activism, employing technology to encourage debate and feature user-generated content. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more comfortable with a commanding leadership and use restrictive policies to combat disorderly speech in online forums.

“All of this suggests that the Internet may benefit liberals more often than conservatives -- at least for now,” says a 2010 CNN article that seems prophetic now.

On data analytics, blogger Rob Enderle points out the woes of Romney’s team, which outsourced the work while Obama’s team built its own analytics capabilities in-house. And beyond the technical failure of Romney’s get-out-the-vote initiative Orca, it was designed merely to find likely supporters and get them to the polls. The Obama camp’s initiative, called Narwhal, meanwhile, sought to develop a relationship with likely supporters.

All this doesn’t mean the GOP can’t find tech wizards willing to provide the IT innovation it needs. It just might be harder.

As Weinschenk wrote:

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, it was made clear that the GOP needed to reach out more effectively to the Latinos, women, and gay and other communities. It would be wise for the GOP leadership — and, in the final analysis, far better for the health of our political system — to build bridges to the information technology sector as well.



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