In politics, smart phones are symbols

Campaign strategists can get a good idea about your political preferences just by looking at the brand of your smart phone.

A new study by Tulchin Research, a polling and strategic consulting firm, has recently shown that the majority of Californians carrying iPhones support Jerry Brown in the race for governor while those pecking away on Blackberries are more likely to support Meg Whitman.

The findings were part of a survey that the pollster Ben Tulchin conducted earlier this year for a technology company. Tulchin, who also participates in Capitol Weekly’s polling, presented the data at a regional gathering of the American Association of Political Consultants.

The findings corroborate some pre-existing anecdotes about the state’s polarized political culture. It’s no surprise that certain brands attract certain demographics, says Tulchin.

There’s the Bay Area hipster working as a graphic designer, pedaling a fixed gear down the Embarcadero, a Chrome bag chock-full of iPods and Macbooks. They see the line of portraits in the Capitol and make a bee-line for Brown’s, the Don Bachardy abstract: an anomaly amidst its more traditional peers. They appreciate the expression, in the same way they do the contemporary, clean lines of all things Apple. They relate. They vote.

In contrast is the businessman crawling from a cab with a leather folder underarm and a blinking blue light clipped to his ear, fingers pecking away at the tiny hand-held keyboard of a Blackberry. He has stocks to watch, children to text, clients to email, China to call, things to protect. He’s running a business, like Meg did once. He’s penciled in his preference well in advance.  

Brands thrive on these stereotypes and politicians are beginning to get in on the action too. Tulchin’s study bridges a statistical gap between brand preference and gubernatorial preference. Tulchin’s statewide poll, commissioned by CALinnovates, was conducted among 600 registered Californian voters, 37 percent of whom use either iPhones or Blackberries.   

Most smart phone users aren’t getting their political information from their phones. And among voters, they are in the minority – about one in five voters, or 20 percent of the state’s voting population, owns a smart phone.

Some 57 percent of all iPhone users said they supported Brown for governor, while 47 percent of Blackberry users opted for Whitman.

Even though the majority of the smart-phone population isn’t using phones for politics, they certainly still have political opinions and preferences, Tulchin said. That means campaign strategists could be missing out on key avenues to communicate with constituents if they aren’t targeting technologies like smart phones and Facebook pages.

Tulchin aims to change this. commissioned his company to find out what technology voters were using and how they were getting their political information.

“Nobody had asked these kinds of questions before,” says Tulchin.

But he points out that they are important questions to ask. Referencing the rise of the Obama iPhone application after the ‘08 election, where voters could use their phones to express support of the candidate and stay updated on his campaign, Tulchin recalls wondering, “Is this just a phenomenon for this campaign or a tool that (future) campaigns need to use?”

Last week, the American Association of Political Consultants held a conference for campaign strategists and political junkies alike. Tulchin gave a presentation titled “Campaign Tactics that Are Working Right Now – the Rise of Social Media and Smart Phones,” which outlined the results of the CALinnovates study.

The statistics of the gubernatorial smart phone poll identified not only the demographics of voter preference but where those demographics are, and how campaigns can reach them.

Campaign ads may be going beyond the traditional doorknob pamphlets or even the expensive TV productions to reach voters this year. “Campaigns have to adapt to the times andthink about developing tools that people can use for their smart phones,” says Tulchin.

Brown may have the advantage on that one. With a flourish of online iPhone app-makers, creating his own “BrownApp” could be as easy as twenty minutes on Google.

Both candidates are avid Tweeters and can be found on Facebook, although Whitman has about 2,000 more “friends” than Brown. You can “like” a candidate by clicking on a little blue thumb and even watch an opponent-bashing commercial in the margins of your social feed.  

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