By Alexander Bolton - 04/12/12 01:33 PM EDT
American Majority Action, a rising force among the conservative grass roots, has made a nearly $1 million investment in technology to put Tea Party activists on even footing with President Obama’s election campaign.
Conservative strategists behind the effort want to identify issues that drive independents who vote frequently. The goal is to be able to craft campaign messages that will get independents out the door and voting for conservative candidates on Election Day.
Democratic candidates tend to perform better with the roughly 35 percent of the electorate who identify as moderate. The leadership at American Majority Action wants conservative candidates to do a better job of reaching independent voters likely to support them.
The group believes enthusiasm among Tea Party voters will be high in November but acknowledge the Democratic ground game has had an advantage in recent elections, in part because of technological superiority.
Its solution is Gravity, campaign management software that allows field directors to organize volunteers in real time through smartphones.
“Gravity will rocket conservatives past the high-tech approaches of the DNC and other progressive political groups,” said Drew Ryun, president of American Majority Action. “This is the fusion of old-school grassroots tactics with the state-of-the-art technology. In recent years, conservatives have been out-gunned by their more liberal counterparts in utilizing technology as a means of promoting their message and mobilizing voters.”
Ryun formerly handled grassroots outreach and field operations for the Republican National Committee. He is the son of former Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.).
The smartphone application allows field organizers to put together precinct walk lists and survey questions while volunteers are in the field. If volunteers discover an unexpected issue of high concern to voters, organizers can revise the scripts while volunteers are out knocking on doors.
Ryun is working with his brother Ned, founder and president of American Majority, an affiliated educational organization. American Majority Action wants to put the new technology into the hands of groups such as American Majority and FreedomWorks so they can run issue-education campaigns more effectively.
Their plan is to distribute the software for free to local Tea Party groups, which often have plenty of motivation but little funding.
“They have no money but they have real passion. They have limited time. Many of them are working full-time elsewhere, the time they spend on Tea Party work or local communities is time they’re volunteering,” said Ned Ryun.
He said the software would allow Tea Party activists to go through their communities and ask about federal spending, the growth of government and other issues.
“American Majority believes national change begins at the local level,” he said. “We feel that by giving this tool to local Tea Party groups and grassroots to dig into their community they’re going to start to change their communities and as more and more of them do it in their communities, working together, they can bring that lasting national change.”
American Majority Action developed the software in partnership with Political Gravity, a technology firm.
The effort has been funded by investors but the founders stress it is a for-profit venture. They hope to recoup the costs of software development by selling Gravity to larger advocacy organizations.
FreedomWorks, a grassroots educational organization that works with Tea Party activists, has bought the technology.
Drew Ryun said the Gravity program is different from other campaign technology software because it fuses mapping technology, tablet technology and smartphone applications with voter identification modeling.
American Majority Action is seeking to build field plans from the ground up, replacing what it calls the traditional “top down” model.
Field directors put together surveys and precinct walking plans at headquarters and distribute them to volunteers to take into neighborhoods. The drawback to that old-school hard-copy model, according to Drew Ryun, is that campaigns lose data.
The Gravity program is designed to better capture voter data that gets lost during the frenzied final weeks of an election. Volunteers who walk precincts often collect information on which issues most motivate voters. But many times the stacks of hard-copy data they return to headquarters do not get entered properly into campaign databases.
American Majority Action hopes conservative candidates can avoid this data loss by using the Gravity smartphone technology, which immediately updates voter profiles with the answers to survey questions.
“The most accurate model is hard IDing of voters, which requires a robust grassroots network and army of volunteers,” said Drew Ryun.
“A simple rule of campaign politics is whoever turns out the most voters wins,” he said.