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Mobile accounts for 10pc of presidential campaign donations: Pew

October 29, 2012

Donations can be made via Obama's campaign app

SMS and mobile applications are quickly gaining steam as a way for political candidates to generate campaign contributions, with 10 percent of 2012 presidential campaign donors having used one of these methods, according to a new report from Pew Research Center.  

When looked at in terms of political affiliation, Pew found that 15 percent of Democratic donors and only 6 percent of Republican donors made a contribution using their mobile phone. It was not until June of this year that the Federal Election Commission allowed political campaigns to accept campaign contributions via text message.

“It shows people want to donate via their phone,” said Alex Campbell, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Vibes, Chicago.

“It’s interesting that neither candidate did a lot of promotion for mobile donations and yet it was still 10 percent,” he said. “It could have been much higher if the candidates more actively solicited them.”

Better promotion needed
The presidential campaigns for both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama enable supporters to contribute via a mobile phone. However, few congressional candidates or state-level candidates currently accept mobile donations, according to Pew.

With 13 percent of adults overall having a made a contribution to one of the presidential candidates in this year’s election, the numbers mean that just one percent of all U.S. adults made a contribution from their mobile phone this election season.

The numbers might have been higher if either of the presidential campaigns did a better job of promoting mobile payments.

“One of the things I think the candidates did poorly in terms of mobile payments is the way they went about asking for donations via mobile,” Mr. Campbell said.  

“Rather than offering me unique insights or information about their record or position on a hot-button campaign issue in exchange for a donation, I would simply receive a text message asking me to donate to their campaign,” he said.

“In our experience working with brands representing a diverse range of industries, this approach very rarely works. Rather, mobile phone users – in this case, voters – are looking for something special or unique in exchange for an action, which in this case would be a monetary donation.”

Mr. Campbell added that, in general, he has not seen a lot of engagement via mobile from either candidate this election season.

According to Pew, mobile plays a bigger role when considering charitable donations of any kind, with previous research showing that approximately one in 10 U.S. adults have made a charitable donation using their mobile phone.

Impulse donations
While Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to make a presidential campaign contribution of any kind, the report found that democrats are more likely to contribute online or directly from their mobile phone. Republicans are more likely to contribute in person, by phone call or via regular mail.

The results show that 87 percent of Republican campaign donors have contributed in person, by telephone, or via the mail while 57 percent of Democratic donors have contributed in this way. Additionally, 57 percent of Democratic campaign donors have contributed online or via email, compared with 34 percent of Republican donors.

While offline methods remain the most common way for U.S. consumers to make a political contribution, online contributions still represent a significant portion while donations from mobile phones make up only a small component.

“We see mobile donations, for president or otherwise, as a kind of ‘impulse donation’ because it allows a consumer to donate a small amount of money very quickly,” Mr. Campbell said. “It allows a consumer to react to a donation request and say, ‘Hey, I believe in that candidate, I’ll give $5 right now.’

“There are really no other ways to make impulse donations,” he said.

“Interestingly, I think it’s the candidates who have to be more accepting of mobile donations than consumers. It’s a pretty big, mostly untapped source of revenue for candidates who may not actually understand it well enough to actively use it.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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