Wireless smartphone and tablet users helped both presidential candidates raise funds and support in 2012, while mobile computing contributed directly to President Barack Obama's edge in Tuesday's presidential election.
Most exit polls show Obama won 60% of the voters aged 18 to 29. That age group also uses smartphones and other mobile phones and tablets in greater numbers than other age groups.
"Mobile computing really did make a difference in the presidential election," said Darcy Wedd, president of Payvia, a company that provided Web widgets to allow fast campaign contributions from both Obama's and GOP challenger Mitt Romney's mobile applications. "It drew more people to the polls and that was a younger demographic, and that would have helped the re-election of President Obama."
Obama, a Democrat, won just over 50% of the national vote to Romney's 48%. The president's margin was larger in the Electoral College.
Wedd said that Obama had four years as the incumbent to build up social media support on both mobile and desktop devices, including email and text-messaging databases. "Obama already had a captive audience, and you'd see him tweeting supporters to contribute $10, and then have celebrities and athletes retweeting that contribution request," Wedd said in an interview.
Payvia had to seek permission from the U.S. Federal Election Commission to allow political contributions to either candidate through mobile apps, over the mobile Web or through SMS (text) messages. Billing was done through wireless carriers, after Payvia set up relationships with all the carriers in North America and several globally. In most cases, users would text a keyword to a number to contribute a set amount.
Toward the end of the campaign, Payvia introduced simplified technology that would have allowed a smartphone user to open a campaign smartphone app, go to a donate button, then make a donation with a quick confirmation of the user's phone number from the carrier. When the confirmation was clicked, a contribution would have been made with the charge appearing on next month's cellular bill. That feature was not ready in time for this year's election, but will be available in the future,.
Wedd wouldn't disclose how much either campaign raised using mobile contributions, saying only: "Romney did lose, and that's a good way to connect the dots."
In round numbers, Obama's campaign said it raised about $1 billion for his campaign, with some 10 million Americans making individual contributions to the president.
The more notable impact of mobile campaign contributions was centered around specific events, such as the first presidential debate in October. Without disclosing the amount, Payvia said there was a 96% spike in mobile giving on Romney's mobile site during that debate on Oct. 3. The site included a link to donate via mobile directly underneath a video stream of the debate. (During that same debate, 10 million tweets about the event were made, most from mobile devices, Payvia said.)
A message to text-to-donate $10 to Obama's efforts during a Democratic National Convention speech by Obama adviser Jim Messina caused a sudden 61% jump in Obama contributions, Payvia said.
According to Wedd, mobile giving speeds up how quickly contributions can be made, taking just a few seconds, compared to minutes needed to go online on a desktop and type in credit card information.
Younger voters were more inclined to view political tweets and Facebook updates via mobile devices than to watch TV ads, and to quickly retweet or otherwise spread the message, added Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.
"An ability to quickly spread the message, whatever that message was, clearly allowed a viral ability to amplify both negative and positive events and news," Gold said. "Many people also posted when they had voted and probably no one wanted to not be tagged as voting."
Payvia, which faces competition for mobile contribution technology from Boku and Zong (purchased by PayPal), predicts that mobile contributions will take on a bigger role in the next presidential election in 2016.
For Facebook and other social media sites, Wedd said there will likely be a "text-to-donate" button of some kind embedded on mobile sites.
Obama had 31 million Facebook followers at one point in the 2012 campaign, while Romney had 11 million. With that in mind, a donate button on those Facebook pages would have made it easier for supporters to send money to the campaigns, Payvia said.
Wedd also predicted that more apps will appear in 2016 that live-stream campaign events. As for the 2020 election, he wondered, "Will we be able vote on our phones?"
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.