Politics revolves around organization. The increasing popularity of mobiles; IPhones, IPads and Android devices will revolutionize political organization and campaigning. It is now possible to provide field workers with mobile applications which will allow better organization and coordination of campaigns. Further, these applications will let users dynamically collect and upload data from the field. Campaigns and unit committees will be able to access this centralized data in real time. Improving both the speed and accuracy of decision making. Data collection and access is one thing, visualizing this data is quite another. The ability to search, query and tabulate this data is huge. But maps provide a very intuitive way to view this type of data. We will discuss in this article the potential uses of mobile applications for political campaigning. And how maps and mobile GIS can be used to better visualize campaign data.
Mobile Political Campaigning & Voter Data Management
Much in the world of political campaigning is centered around canvassing, phone banks and walk lists. Walk lists are for campaign field workers, essentially their voter contact list. Mobile applications running on smartphones such as IPhones and Droids are perfect for providing canvassers their walk list. Using application tools provided by the likes of MapQuest, these lists can be presented as markers on a map with optimized, or most efficient, routes. In addition, by using the inbuilt GPS on most smartphones, users can know their current location and collect data at that location. So a voters response can be captured on a smartphone dynamically, tied to that location and uploaded to a centralized database.
Historically, spreadsheets have been the main stay of political campaign organizing. Those days will soon be gone. Data centrally stored, updated from the field dynamically using mobile devices and from campaign headquarters will revolutionize politics. New software applications will become available for use on traditional PC’s and mobile devices which will tap into this data and allow questions to be answered or viewed quickly; the concentrations of likely voters or supporters for more efficient targeting, identifying locations for events, planning and moving collateral, generating and viewing walk-lists, and plotting sign locations. Interactive maps will prove important in visualizing much of this data. Field Directors will be able to almost instantly see the progress of sign placement operations, volunteer recruitment, and literature distribution. They will also be able to see the location of field workers while they are interacting with voters and view responses in real time. Unit and district chairs could use these systems for mass e-mails, the content being related to the voters district or location. Task lists could be created and posted for party or campaign employees, allowing them to record their progress. These updates would be instantly accessible to managers anywhere.
These types of system will dramatically improve efficiency, and reduce or remove redundant processes. They will provide a key edge over opponents. Enabling a dramatic enlargement of membership.
To summarize some of the areas impacted by these new systems of mobile political campaigning:
- Planning – voting lists, election boundaries, location (possible and actual) and relocation of collateral (signs, literature)
- Coordination – unit rosters, party and campaign offices, events
- Canvassing – walk list, data collection
Mobile GIS Maps & Politics
Mobile devices, as we have said, will be increasingly key to political campaigns. Viewing maps, boundaries, and voter locations on a smartphone or mobile tablets will be crucial to field workers. As will recording data while in the field. We have already mentioned a few, but we can imagine a range of different questions we want answered and displayed on a map:
- Show me an optimized route of my walk list
- Display registered voter data on a map by definable region
- Search and display by a set of criteria – Show all 2008 Primary Voters
- Search, filter and display – Show 2008 Primary Voters who voted in the last 3 elections or show only hard democrats
- Spatial query – Selecting a group of voters, by drawing a square on the map, will provide a voter summary. Maybe the number of voters selected, average distance between voters, total number of hard Republicans in this group, and number of perfect voters.
There are a range of options and tools we can use for maps in politics. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) offer tools which will help manage, organize, search, query and display campaign data. MapQuest offer both PC focused and mobile optimized tools ideal for political campaigns.
The Use of GIS in Politics
We have discussed the querying and display of campaign data. Often, at least in a GIS, this would involve either shapefiles or ArcGIS endpoints (ArcGIS from ESRI is the most popular GIS spatial server). These both are spatial data sources which contain features (voters and their point location), and attributes (a voters party allegiance for example). Rendering or displaying a shapefile or ArcGIS endpoint adds a layer to the map. Thus we can add points to the map which represent voters. Click on a point and the attributes of that voter are displayed. Querying is also possible against these spatial data sources; show me all hard Republican voters in a certain zip code.
We can extend this to editing and updating. Thus it is quite possible to update our spatial data sources using a mobile device. Maybe a voter has switched allegiances and is no longer a democrat; update that voters attributes on your smartphone which updates the central data store. Maybe a new area of homes has been built and voters here need adding to the data store. Again this can all be done by field workers using their mobile devices.
ESRI are the largest provider of GIS software in the world. Their flagship ArcGIS product offers a complete GIS solution, both for desktop and networked GIS. Moblie ArcGIS has become increasingly important. WebMapSolutions have been building a sample viewer which demonstrates some of the mobile functionality of ArcGIS. The video below shows the mobile GIS app running on an IPad:
Open source mobile GIS options are also available. Openlayers, OpenScales and GeoServer are excellent examples.
MapQuest and Politics
MapQuest are well known for routing and traffic maps, but they offer a plethora of other services. We are in the process of building a new mobile application which demonstrates some of the capabilities of mobile MapQuest. The functionality will include:
- Walk List
- Optimized Walk List Route
- Sign placement and traffic flow
- Data entry using device GPS
- Query – map markers showing voters filtered by specific criteria
A video of this application will be posted here in due course.
Online & Offline Mobile GIS Maps & Politics
Less common in urban areas, but mobile devices may sometimes lack Wi-Fi connectivity. This means data cannot be transferred to and from the device. Maybe downloaded map data showing the location of the next voter on the walk list, or voter interview data uploaded to the central server. It is now possible to store data directly on the device. So complete walk lists routes can be downloaded while still online, and used with or without Wi-Fi connectivity. Similarly a light weight database on the mobile device can be used to store data recorded at a location, for later upload when back in Wi-Fi range. The video below shows online and offline map usage on an Android smartphone. The base map tiles are stored on the device, as is a shapefile of Utah counties. The latter could just as easily be voter points or election boundaries.
Existing Political Software Systems and The New Mobile Paradigm
Existing, lets call them legacy, political software systems are slow and clunky. Mapping capabilities are limited. As already mentioned, decisions are still often made with the help of spreadsheets. Field workers rely on printed sheets, phones and notepads for organization and data gathering. In short, current software applications used for political campaigns are inadequate.
Existing systems can be dramatically improved. Mobile applications will be a particularly key component. Centralizing data and extending, maybe rewriting, existing software applications to allow easier management, querying and visualization of this data will be crucial. Mobile applications in politics will provide both access to the data while in the field (no more pens, papers and printed maps), and the ability to edit and add new data. Mobiles provide up to date information dynamically; walk lists, routing, tracking field workers. They also allow much of what was done in the office, to now be done done in the field. So querying by voter attributes using a fixed distance from your current location. And designing your canvassing around these dynamic queries. Applications written for PC’s will provide advanced functionality and management of both the data and ultimately the campaign.
Maps will be ever more important for displaying much of the data both in the office and in the field using mobiles.
Mobile Politics Application Development
So how would you build such a system? There are a number of proprietary and open source content management and constituent relationship management solutions. Joomla and CivicCRM are two excellent open source options. These can serve as the central system, PC based work can utilize the modules available in these types of frameworks. The key mobile and mapping portions of this picture will need custom development. These would be integrated into the central system. So whether it be leveraging the power of MapQuest or a full GIS, these could be integrated into the PC based system, and custom built for mobile.
As a company we specialize in these types of integrations. Our focus is Web and mobile application development, with a particular emphasis on location based services (LBS), mobile GIS and maps. Mobile will be very important to the upcoming election cycle. Political campaigns can now leverage mobile to make faster better decisions. We can help build or integrate both mobile and maps into any political campaign.