As a rule, I’d rather be referring to possibilities and probabilities instead of predictions because predictions are binary but reality is more dynamic. But it’s the season of predictions, so here we go:
Fear of Deep Fakes Will Be Overblown
There’s been a lot of fear mongering about the possible threats from realistic-looking but totally fake videos to our already fragile political discourse, but we’re at least another year away from them truly being a problem. Deep fake creation still requires some expertise, cost, and time that make them less than practical for run of the mill political trolls and troublemakers.
But that doesn’t mean someone won’t claim a legitimate video is fake, attempting to make deep fakes a scapegoat.
The Trump Campaign Will Outraise Its Democrat Counterpart with Grassroots Donors
The campaign has been investing millions of dollars in this program since 2016 and quarter after quarter they bring in huge fundraising totals from grassroots supporters via email and text. The eventual Democrat nominee won’t ever be able to catch up.
A Campaign Will Fall Victim to a Ransomware Attack
A ransomware attack locks up a target’s data or threatens to expose sensitive information unless a bounty is paid on time. This makes campaigns, who face very hard deadlines in the form of election days, ripe targets. Many campaigns still aren’t implementing basic security practices like multi-factor authentication and email authentication.
Lax cybersecurity practices by outside vendors and consultants also make them susceptible to phishing or spoofing attacks that could give hackers the foothold they need to hold a campaign’s data for ransom.
Doorbell Cameras Will Change the Nature of Canvassing
With doorbell cameras more widespread than ever, it’s yet another way for savvy voters to avoid being contacted by campaigns and while the response rates at the doors may go down, it means users will see canvassers more. A clever campaign will figure out a script for doorbell cameras and those campaign T-shirts are more important than ever.
Bonus: Expect doorbell cam footage to feature into a scandal, either a volunteer behaving badly, someone stealing a campaign sign, or an embarrassing moment caught on camera.
Voice Search Will Be a Significant Channel for Voters to Research Candidates
Smart speaker usage and voice search are beginning to reach a critical mass where campaigns need to consider how they “appear” on voice search. Analysts predict that 50% of all online searches will be made by voice by the end of 2020.
A Candidate Will Win By Spending More Money Online Than on TV
Last year, for the first time ever, advertisers spent more online than on TV and print. As the digital battleground grows and broadcast TV advertising diminishes in effectiveness, expect to see a candidate win by spending more on digital advertising than they traditionally would on paid offline advertising.
Mike Bloomberg Will Make Ridesharing Apps Free to the Polls on Election Day
Mike Bloomberg spent $100 million in the first few weeks of his campaign without even breaking a sweat. He can – and will – spend any amount in his pursuit of the White House. During the primary, expect him to spend in new and innovative ways. In the general, whether he’s the candidate or not, look for ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber to be free to get to the polls for key areas and demographics.
More Money Will Be Spent on Campaigns With Less Understanding Of Its Efficacy
There’s no doubt that we’re on track for more money to be spent on politics in 2020 than ever before. But the frustrating reality is that we won’t make any major progress towards knowing what works. Despite having better access to data and technology to measure and test voter contact methods, political spending is still mostly directed by gut instincts, media narratives, and donor pressure.
Artificial Intelligence Will Be Responsible for a Candidate’s Victory
AI campaign managers are a few election cycles away, but whether we notice or not, AI will either explicitly or implicitly direct a campaign’s strategy in such a way that will give it the competitive advantage to win in 2020.
Please don’t make any jokes about “artificial intelligence” already being widespread in politics.
A Tech Company Will Reverse Its Ban on Political Advertising
It will either be an outright reversal or a softening of the policy but at least one tech company will learn the error of their ways or buckle under bipartisan pressure to backtrack. This move will get less attention than the initial announcement of their policy, proving that the political advertising bans are more about PR than protecting elections.
The Tech Bans Aren’t Over Yet
Bans started with ads, but they won’t stop there. Expect other platforms, like payment processors, content delivery networks, etc – under pressure from their employees – to limit their engagement in politics rather than make tough and potentially unpopular judgment calls.
Campaigns Will Spend More Money on More Platforms
Budget that would have gone to Facebook or Google will find its way onto other platforms, like local publishers, podcasting, or paid influencers. The new restrictions will force campaigns to be more creative online.
Cancel Culture Will Be Enforced Via Tech
Whether it’s being banned from Stripe, kicked off of Cloudflare, or some other extraordinary measure, the present “cancel culture” will force a tech company to go after a specific, individual campaign for something they say or do.
Technology-enabled Relational Organizing Will Become Standard Operating Procedure
In 2018, 36 of the 44 candidates who flipped House seats used relational organizing tech. Efforts are underway on the right to make this technology more widely available. Campaigns that don’t take advantage of relational organizing won’t be able to reach the voters they need to persuade and turn out.
By the end of the 2020 cycle, technology-enabled relational organizing will be a widely-accepted voter contact channel, like phones, doors, or mail.
The First Social Media Influencer Candidate Will Be Elected
There have been plenty of candidates who have used social media to get elected, but this year, we’ll see the first social media influencer – someone who lives and breathes this – win office.
Big Tech Will Give Democrats a Competitive Advantage
It won’t be from the top, Republicans won’t be able to prove it, and the legacy media won’t believe it but big tech will give a competitive advantage to Democrats, either through an unrecognized cultural bias or a rogue employee putting their thumb on the scale.
Absent Guidance From Lawmakers, Tech Platforms Will Continue to Self-Regulate with Mixed Results
With a Federal Elections Commission unable to issue regulations and federal lawmakers unable to reach consensus on what to do about Big Tech, we’ll see ongoing self-regulation by the platforms in response to very real challenges facing our elections. Some efforts, like transparency libraries, will be good, but others, like bans on advertising and targeting, will be misguided.
A Campaign Will Over-Target Their Outreach
With the best of intentions, a campaign will rely heavily on voter data to direct their voter contact but will do so in such a way that they won’t reach all the voters they need to win. Again, we may not realize this is happening, but it will be the correct diagnosis.
A Self-organized Community Will Propel a Candidate to Victory Without Their Cooperation
The tools needed to organize political communities are more democratic than ever, empowering groups on each end of the political spectrum to self-organize. In 2018, “Resistance” groups were instrumental in helping Democrats secure the House. In 2020, look for pro-Trump groups to self-organize and help down-ballot Republican candidates win unexpectedly in an area where the local party isn’t able to support a campaign.
Keyword Signaling Will Be the Dubious but Much-talked-about Digital Tactic of the Year
Keyword signaling, the tactic of using a specific phrase offline to drive online searches, was popularized by conspiracy theorists and led to terms like “false flag” or “crisis actors” that legacy media unwittingly adopted. Last year, both UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Congressman Devin Nunes were accused of using keyword signaling to impact Google search results.
Keyword signaling will get even more buzz in 2020 with little in the way of proof that the tactic actually works.