For the first time in Victoria the Liberal Party has adopted i360 software, which allows campaigners to enter details of phone calls and face-to-face conversations with voters immediately into a database using their mobile phones.
The program, credited with helping Donald Trump win the 2016 US election, can record precise personal information down to voters’ individual concerns about political or local issues and their voting intentions.
It allows campaign teams to target undecided voters for repeated communications while disregarding rusted-on true believers or pouring greater resources into other areas.
The i360 program can merge information with the Liberals’ existing campaign database, Feedback, providing instant access to masses of historic information about voters.
Conversely, i360 also records the activities of Liberal candidates, monitoring whether they are meeting their campaign targets for phone calls and face-to-face visits.
Victorian Liberal state director Nick Demiris said the party was using world-leading technology to engage with voters.
“We are working hard to ensure voters right around Victoria hear about our positive plans to jail gangs, cut the cost of electricity and ease the pressure on Melbourne while turbocharging our regions,” he said.
The Liberal Party used i360 to help win the South Australian election, with some insiders arguing their campaign methods helped exceed the expectations of political commentators.
NationBuilder, a campaign platform used by the Greens and other groups, also creates comprehensive voter databases.
It can match email addresses with social media accounts and monitor interactions on Facebook and Twitter.
A blog post dedicated to Australian users on the NationBuilder website says the software can tap into social media profiles to add vastly more detail to databases of email addresses.
“You can spend less than two minutes searching social media bios and locations for key words to identify who lives in your city, what they’re up to and what they care about,” the blog post says.
But Greens state director Clare Quinn said the party used NationBuilder to help volunteers to communicate with each other and “empower local teams to organise volunteer groups”.
“Our campaigns software underpins our volunteer program, helping us contact more people, more efficiently [and] connect them with events, other volunteers and local campaign opportunities in their area,” she says.
Ms Quinn said the Greens had used NationBuilder since 2013 and insisted they did not use social media to create voter profiles.
“While there is some connection with social media, this isn’t a significant focus of the platform,” she said.
NationBuilder vice president of business development Toni Cowan-Brown said the software was not designed to replace conventional campaign methods but rather placed huge amounts of campaign information in the one place.
She said it helped political campaigners manage websites, donations, email marketing, social media and events.
Ms Cowan-Brown said NationBuilder was the world’s most-popular software for political parties but was also used by non-profit groups.
“The same organising methods that help politicians raise money, recruit volunteers and win votes are crucial for building loyal communities of customers, supporters, or constituents,” she said.
Ms Cowan-Brown declined to reveal which Australian groups had adopted the platform, but Environment Victoria confirmed it used NationBuilder to manage databases of voters.
The non-profit group’s chief executive Mark Wakeham said NationBuilder helped it record details of constituents in marginal electorates who cared about environmental issues and were perhaps undecided about who to vote for.
Keeping track of interactions with voters was crucial for ensuring the group’s message reached those who might be receptive to it, he said.
“Running a community organising program is an expensive business. The more that you can be sure that you are talking to the right people the more impact you’re going to have.”
Environment Victoria is targeting marginal seats in Melbourne’s south-eastern sandbelt where just a few hundred votes could determine the outcomes in each of those electorates.
It is also compiling report cards on the environmental policies of the major parties to help influence voting patterns.
For several years, Labor has used Campaign Central software nationally to create databases that candidates and MPs can access.
But Victorian Labor assistant state secretary Kosmos Samaras said human contact, in person or by phone, remained irreplaceable.
He also doubted whether i360 was as effective an electoral weapon as its proponents suggested, saying he had heard reports of Liberal candidates trying to persuade committed Labor members to change their vote.
“We find that an odd use of resources,” he said.
Melbourne University politics expert Mark Triffitt said political parties and lobby groups were forced to adopt new technologies and campaign styles due to the difficulty in “cutting through” to voters.
He said parties would increasingly craft personalised messages for voters that could be embedded in their social media feeds.
“We’re basically entering a new age of political communication,” Dr Triffitt said.
Victorian Trades Hall Council has developed its own online petition platform, called Megaphone, which has helped it notch up signatures from more than 350,000 individuals on a range of issues from workplace rights to asylum seekers.
Trades Hall assistant secretary Wil Stracke said for the first time at this election, its volunteers would phone people who had signed petitions through Megaphone as part of their campaign.
Groups outside the union movement can set up petitions on the platform, but topics are moderated by Trades Hall. Unions want to push key concerns including wage theft, workplace manslaughter and insecure work to the top of voters’ minds at the election.
Ms Stracke said Trades Hall was focusing on seats with tight margins where its volunteers might be able to swing the result towards candidates who best supported union policies.
“Our primary focus is on conversations,” she said. “That means training up volunteers to talk to people in their family, their workplace, their networks and their community about the issues that matter.”
Benjamin is a state political reporter