On Monday night, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) unanimously voted to allow political donations via text message in a decision that will take place immediately. According to Politico, “Individual phone numbers will be capped at $50 worth of donations per billing cycle per political candidate or committee.”
Donating via text message and having the donation charged on one’s phone bill is a lot easier -- and a more convenient -- way for people to donate than mailing in a donation form or donating online, and this has the potential to empower the Tea Party and Tea Party backed candidates in future election cycles.
In 2008, Democrats ran circles around Republicans when it came to technology and were able to turn online enthusiasm into money and votes, building on the success of Howard Dean’s internet strategy during the 2004 Democratic primary.
But that was the pre-Twitter and pre-smartphone era.
As Twitter and smartphone usage increased, Republicans quickly closed the technology gap and, in some cases, gained the upper hand on Democrats.
A comprehensive study found Republican politicians are more effective on Twitter and another found that Republicans won the social media battle during the 2010 midterm elections.
Older people are just now adopting smartphones and Twitter, and that demographic will contribute to the growth of smartphone and Twitter users, which is why Twitter has been redoubling its efforts, especially in terms of advertising, to make it a better product for mobile users, which is where Twitter sees a majority of its users using the medium in the future.
The Technology Review found that “in 2006, smart phones accounted for just 6% of U.S. mobile phones sold that year. Today, “smart phones represent more than two-thirds of all U.S. mobile-phone sales.”
Even more incredible, according to The Technology Review, which cites a Nielsen report that found “50 percent of all U.S. mobile-phone users—which equates to about 40 percent of the U.S. population—now use smart phones,” is that the smartphone is the only technology that has “moved as quickly to the U.S. mainstream” as “was television between 1950 and 1953.”
The Tea Party movement has been fueled by smartphones and Twitter, which have allowed conservatives to instantaneously collaborate, challenge, and debunk mainstream media narratives. Conservatives like Sarah Palin can dominate the news cycle with a single tweet and frustrate liberals by taking over hashtags Democrats initially create.
Now imagine a politician like Palin tweeting or e-mailing a 5-digit number to text to donate to a candidate or political group of her choice. Those who get that message on their mobile devices can then instantaneously decide to contribute to that candidate’s coffers. Especially in Republican primary elections and state elections, this helps more conservative candidates who often cannot compete against the establishment fundraising machine.
On the national level, celebrities will probably campaign to have people text donations to liberal political groups and Democrats. And the number of young people (young voters will still skew liberal) who adopt smartphones and Twitter may well offset the older voters more inclined to donate to conservative causes.
Democrats have had a head start over Republicans when it comes to technology, but Republicans and conservatives have a history of building on tools Democrats usher in and becoming better at using them. (Liberal George McGovern pioneered the art of direct mail fundraising, which Republicans, with the help of those like Richard Viguerie, then dominated.)
Now that it is legal to donate to candidates via text message, the ability of conservatives to make text-messaging donations is to this political era what direct mailing was in the 1980s and 1990s. This should not be underestimated.