Last Tuesday, voters in Florida took to the polls in one of the last primary elections before the November midterms. In a surprising upset, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum inched past North Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham to clinch the Democratic nomination for governor. Except Change Research, an HGL-backed polling firm, wasn’t surprised at all – they had predicted Gillum would win with 33 percent of the vote, making them the only pollster to predict his victory.
Change Research took on a risky challenge in politics. They saw that our current system for polling is flawed. Campaigns having been paying more money for less accurate insights and predictions as it’s become difficult to survey the population quickly on landlines. So they decided to do it differently – relying on digital channels to poll people, an approach that is faster and far more affordable. And while the Florida race is an early test for November, their results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Montana have shown their new approach to be consistently accurate.
If Democrats want to run campaigns that effectively reach Americans in today’s world, we need to invest in fast, nimble, affordable, and accurate tech tools like Change Research. Over the past two years, Democrats have been forced to come to terms with a stark realization – we are losing our competitive edge in political technology. For years, we have backed a broken innovation cycle that has made it difficult to adopt new technology across the Party. As a result, Republicans have started to catch up. Over the past six years, Republicans have made big investments that allow their campaigns to understand voters, reach them through digital channels and move public opinion more effectively. We founded Higher Ground Labs in 2017 to help progressives maintain a competitive advantage and win elections with better tech tools up and down the ballot.
Political tech is specifically the tools and platforms used to engage people in the electoral process – voters, activists, and influencers. Campaigns and organizations rely on political technology to run more effective programs. This could focus on registering voters, raising the profile of a candidate, fundraising, or campaign operations. This is different from civic tech and government tech – two related but parallel verticals. While we see the three as related, they are distinct in the primary audience and the problems they address. GovTech improves operational efficiencies within federal, state, and local government. Candidates might use govtech tools once they are elected, but these are less useful during the campaigning process. Civic tech helps citizens better engage with their communities and interact with these state and local governments. Political tech is a third player in the space that is the newest and the most specific to a moment in time for candidates and voters.
Democrats have a chance to change the narrative by investing our time and money in better political tech right now for Elections in years to come. This Fall, Progressives are already testing new tech tools like Change Research on campaigns across the country, with focuses on revolutionizing volunteer recruitment and management and building relational organizing tools, among others. If Florida’s primary is any indication of the innovation, disruption and success to come, the future of Democratic tech is looking bright.