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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:23:26 PM CST

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Source: DNC wesbite

The DNC released iPhone and iPad applications in June 2010.

The next time your cell phone rings, it could be Obama

by Katie Banks
April 20, 2011


Source: CDC/NCHS National Health Interview Survey

The number of people in the U.S. who rely only on a cell phone to communicate is increasing each year.

It’s a busy day at work and you’ve got 20 minutes to grab lunch. Just as you’re about to order your food, your phone rings. It’s not a coworker or a family member. It’s a phone banker asking you to vote for their candidate.

Are you annoyed because of the inconvenient timing? Or are you wondering how this unidentified person got access to your cell phone number?

Welcome to the 2012 presidential campaign.

And if you’re wondering how the savvy campaigns are getting your contact info, look in a mirror: You may be the one providing your personal information and not even realize it.

Dusty Trice, a Democratic campaign consultant and new media strategist, said candidates could go fishing for cell numbers when they ask for a donation via text message.

“There are no phonebooks for cell phone numbers,” Trice said Wednesday. “So it’s the most coveted piece of data a candidate could get from someone. Once they have it, they know it’s an active number and that you’re actually carrying it on you. So they can text you or call you right before the election.”

And candidates know you’re more likely to answer your cell phone than a landline – if you still have a landline. More than one of every four American homes had only cell phones during the first half of 2010, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics.

With advancements in social media, it will be easier than ever for campaign volunteers to make those calls using smartphone applications. 

So what are the parties doing?

A search for Republican applications came up empty, and GOP officials did not return calls. The Democratic National Committee, however, has launched two iPhone and iPad applications, one of which was for Organizing for America, last June to be used during the 2010 midterm elections. The interactive tools allow supporters to stream videos, obtain information about candidates, make donations, and stay updated on the DNC’s latest issues and events.

According to Trice, the DNC could soon release another application feature that simulates a mobile phone banking system.

The DNC would acquire phone numbers from existing voter registration lists, donation databases, or other social media forums. People who subscribe to the app would then receive a short list of numbers by geographic location.

“Phone-banking used to be something you had to do from a campaign headquarters,” Trice said. “But now you can do it from your living room” and send voters’ preferences straight to a database.

“It’s a self-contained social network,” Trice said. “It’s the final bridge between everyone communicating online and actually going to knock on doors.”

The DNC press office would not confirm this upcoming application feature. But Trice said a similar feature was active during the 2008 elections so it’s likely that it could reappear with a future app update. 

Trevor Montgomery, founder and president of Watch Street Consulting, said not everyone needs to worry about being flooded with calls or texts.

“These smartphone tools are being used to organize people who have already opted in,” Montgomery said. “They are either volunteers or supporters who donated money. These apps will just be a more effective way to update them and get them to events. And of course, they most likely received a prior notification giving them the option to opt out.”

 Even if you don't opt in, campaigns will likely find other ways to obtain your cell phone number. In February Facebook took steps that will allow third-party developers and external websites access to users' personal information. This information would include cell phone numbers and home addresses.

 By tapping into your cell phones, candidates will also be tapping into your wallet.

Similar to the way organizations solicit donations for disaster relief, campaign strategists are brainstorming more effective ways to utilize text message donations during elections.

“Text message donations lead to an increase in the number of donations, but it also lowers the average donation,” Montgomery said. “Right now there’s a set amount when you text in, so people donate $10 when they potentially would’ve donated $100.”

Trice said the set donation values are only a small setback when considering the potential for thousands of donations.

“They usually announce text message donations at big events,” Trice said. “So you will have an entire stadium of people pull out their phones and donate.”

And for those people who want to donate more?

“If they were willing to donate more money in the first place,” Trice said, “you can nudge them later.”