November 5, 2012
If you’ve turned on the TV lately, you’ve seen ads by both presidential candidates, often attacking each other. These ads require big donations, often from corporations.
According to Votizen, this is far from ideal. The San Francisco startup is working to make politics more personal by allowing individuals to engage their friends and encourage them to vote. It’s a “get out the vote” campaign, but online and on social media rather than through calls or flyers. Campaign managers can also use Votizen to connect with interested supporters.
Below, cofounder Jason Putorti talks more about Votizen’s vision for politics.
Tech Cocktail: Tell us about your vision of making politics more personal.
Jason Putorti: Politics, at the upper levels, is mostly dominated now by massive amounts of top-down media spending: both direct-mail and television. It’s a by-product of how large the country has gotten, and how large our Congressional districts have gotten. The personal nature of politics, namely the candidate needing to convince a voter that they’re aligned on values, is slipping away with the exception of small local races. It’s just difficult to win enough votes to win a Congressional race or a big city race going person-to-person.
Social media offers a set of tools to begin to fix this problem, as messages can spread faster, from person-to-person-to-person, and isn’t controlled by a handful of people. In the future, politicians will need to convince influencers on social graphs of their message and their agenda, rather than raise money from large donors, only to turn around and spend it on mass media (often attack ads), in order to win votes. This is an inefficient and undemocratic marketplace that technology can fix, to the benefit of everyone. You don’t need to be rich to use Twitter.
Tech Cocktail: What are some insights you’ve been able to glean from Votizen around election time?
Putorti: Younger candidates that grew up with social media are very excited about the technology. They live in a Facebook and Twitter world and then run for office and realize that it’s based on direct mail and door knocking. Votizen is the tool that they have been waiting for.
It’s also been a learning experience for me as a technologist to see exactly how the campaign season works, and what’s important when. As we’ve done campaigns through the primary season, we saw very little usage until the last few days, when GOTV (get out the vote) became incredibly important, since there’s fewer and fewer ways to spend money the closer you get to the election.
Tech Cocktail: How has technology/politics evolved since you started in 2009?
Putorti: Until after the election, it’s going to be tough to say. The presidential campaigns have traditionally driven the innovations in the space, and the Obama campaign has the largest engineering team any campaign has ever had, but their innovations on voter turnout and social media monitoring, if they’re there, are being kept very close.
Otherwise, I feel that Votizen has driven the most significant innovation in the space by building a tool to uncover real voters on social networks, and enabling bottom-up GOTV. That has never been done before. Now it hasn’t yet been employed by any grassroots group of voters looking to undermine the duopoly of the parties, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen at some point in the future.
Putorti said he “couldn’t announce” what Votizen will be up to on election night. They’ve already been monitoring the sentiment of registered voters, so it could be something interesting.
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