Romney aides acknowledge their online and mobile efforts are unlikely to surpass Obama’s in scale. The president’s reelection campaign spent $26 million on online advertising through May 31 — far more than Obama had spent at this stage in 2008, when he was revolutionizing the use of technology in politics, and at least four times more than the Romney campaign. By one measure, Obama delivered more than 800 million paid Internet ads in February alone — six times more than the entire Republican primary field.
Yet even if they are destined to be outspent and outmanned, Romney’s advisers contend that they can outsmart their counterparts in Chicago in a few important ways — including engaging their supporters online more intensely than Obama’s campaign is mobilizing his, and using digital data to identify and woo independent voters in the narrowest demographic groups in states where a few percentage points could decide the election.
A number of private-sector consultants and past Obama advisers say the technological playing field is leveling.
“They both have an infinite amount of money. They both are doing roughly the same things. I don’t see any reason to believe why they won’t be even on the technology front, said Jim Gilliam, a founder of NationBuilder, a tech firm that helps political candidates build social networks.
In certain respects, the two campaigns’ efforts mirror each other’s, at least on the surface. Both have interactive, dynamic Web site home pages as well as state- or issue-specific pages. They both churn out a flurry of campaign propaganda — videos, tweets and informational graphics — and have online stores selling schwag, such as T-shirts and bumper stickers.
Both also have sophisticated advertising campaigns built around search terms on Google and YouTube. And they have successfully mobilized partisans to make online donations at important moments — for Obama, his decision to support same-sex marriage; for Romney, the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obama’s health-care law.
Still, there are differences. On Facebook, where the campaigns can interact with supporters and extract valuable information from them, Obama has 27 million supporters, while Romney is far behind with just 2 million.
The Romney campaign is building advantages, however. Where 5 percent of Obama’s fans are engaging on Facebook at a given time — for example, by liking, commenting on or sharing a post or a video — 32 percent of Romney’s are engaged.
Another difference: Where Obama’s campaign has engineered its digital products in-house — most notably, a “dashboard” that debuted in spring and enables supporters to connect with the campaign, keep up with news, volunteer and give money — Romney’s campaign is outsourcing much of its development work to private-sector digital firms.