Did we learn anything from the 2014 campaign cycle?

A lot happened in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Republicans took control of the Senate and expanded their hold on the House. They also captured some of the most closely contested and important governors’ races across the nation, while voters at the state level approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana, expanding background checks on gun purchases and increasing the minimum wage while rejecting measures that would have effectively outlawed abortion as well as measures that required labeling of certain genetically modified foods.

Political pundits and Wednesday-morning quarterbacks will spend hours and hours arguing about the meaning behind the results and whether President Obama should change his strategy (or his staff, or his policy positions) heading into the final two years of his presidency in response to the results. Of course, by the end of week (if it hasn’t happened already) the conversation will also shift entirely to the impact the midterms will have on the candidates who plan to run for President in 2016.

While I enjoy a good political discussion as much as the next person, I am much more interested in breaking down the game film from this most recent election cycle to learn more about how different campaigns were organized, what decisions were made about where to invest money, who and how to target certain voters and the like. I am anxious to figure out how we might apply the strategic and tactical lessons from the 2014 midterm elections to future political campaigns (as well as marketing, engagement and other efforts more broadly) to generally improve the way politics is done. 

I don’t know what to think yet… but I do have a lot of questions. A few to start with:

Q: What was the role of big data in this campaign? How good was the data modeling that campaigns were using?  How effective is micro-targeting when it comes to targeting voters (for persuasion in particular) and how did that change how campaigns spent their funds (on TV ads, digital, grassroots efforts) and time?

Q: How accurate was polling (and exit polling) this cycle? How are pollsters changing their approach to capture the audiences that is only reachable on a mobile phone or online - to ensure different segments of the population are being tracked properly?

Q: How did candidates/campaigns use social media - and Facebook in particular this cycle (NOTE: I was quoted in this Washington Post article a few weeks back on this topic)? How were voters using social media this cycle?  Did Facebook’s “I Voted” sticker/experiment have any impact on turnout or interest in the election?  And does the use of social media by, and for, political campaigns apply to the broader organizing efforts around serious issues and causes?

Q: Millennial turnout this year (estimated at roughly 21%) was about the same as in previous midterm elections. Do candidates/political parties understand how to engage and motivate young people to vote, or get involved in politics? Does the interest that millennials seem to have towards addressing serious issues and supporting causes translate to politics and elections - and if so, how?

Q: How was technology used to support Get-Out-The-Vote activities - and what does that tell us about how to mobilize consumers, volunteers, or generally influence people’s offline behaviors?
Q: How did independent groups (e.g. Tom Steyer’s environmental PAC effort, others) use digital - effectively or not effectively - to market to voters? Did the campaigns supporting/opposing ballot measures do anything of note in the digital/social realm?
Q: How can we increase participation - by engaging casual fans of politics, or those who are interested in particular issues but not particularly enamored with how political campaigns are waged? Would the midterms benefit from a re-brand?  Can we translate what we know about how to engage consumers - online and offline - be applied to getting people more engaged in the democratic process?
Q: Were there any new innovations from this election cycle - in terms of the use of digital, social, or similar - that brand/product marketers apply to selling products and services?
Q: What will the preparations for the 2016 cycle look like from a digital/social standpoint? What signs should we be looking for with potential candidates - key hires, new sites or tools being built, etc?
As I said, I don’t have any answers yet… but I think they are some of the important questions that we should be asking now that the midterms are over.