Dumbphones, Presidential campaigns, and mobile politics

The Republican primary campaigns for President of the United States are – let’s face it – already underway.  That means tactical discussion are coming soon – the term “tactical discussion” being defined as giddy blog posts about who is using what new toys – and that will include a discussion of mobile phone strategy.

But in this realm, it may not be the new toys that win out, but new uses for old toys.  Dumbphones – i.e., cell phones that aren’t tiny pocket computers like the Droids and the iPhones of the world – are outselling their smartphone brethren by a rate of four to one and inspiring creative, text-message based usage.

Outside of Carly Fiorina’s losing bid to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer, there were few high-profile examples of campaigns incorporating mobile technologies.  And given the lack of smartphone penetration, fancy apps aren’t always as wise an investment for campaigns, which target broad sections of the electorate, as they are for institutions like think tanks, which are trying to reach media and other thought leaders.

Still, the vast majority of phones on the market are capable of text messaging – and in fact, three out of four mobile users use this feature, compare to less than one out of three who use smartphone apps.  This math says that if a Presidential campaign is looking to be smart with its mobile strategy, they should think dumb.

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