In the United States, a big part of democracy is exercising the hard-won right to vote. Every four years, the road to the presidential elections sets off massive mechanisms focused on engaging voters. Now more than ever, technology is the engine that powers many of these processes across the entire political landscape.
“Never before has technology been as important and integrated into U.S. presidential campaigns,” according to Fred Humphries, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for U.S. government affairs. “For example, Microsoft is helping the election process for both major parties at the Iowa caucuses and assisting candidates as they connect with their potential supporters.”
The company is also giving voters more information about candidates and the voting process through Bing’s comprehensive election experience, and continuing to support Microsoft employees who want to be an active part of political campaigns.
On Feb. 1, Microsoft will be the trusted technology partner for the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, the first big event of the primary season. In 2016, caucus results will be reported via a new, mobile-enabled, cloud-based platform that will facilitate accuracy and efficiency of the reporting process. It will be the first time the Iowa caucuses have had a major technology component, with two unique apps designed especially for the Iowa Republican and Democratic Party processes. A media center in Des Moines, Iowa, will also provide resources for press covering the elections, starting in late January.
Technology’s progression over the past three presidential election cycles shows advances in electronic voting and accessibility solutions, as well as utilizing big data, analytics and productivity tools.
Dan’l Lewin, corporate vice president for technology and civic engagement, noted: “There’s a big shift, both in people’s use of technology and in how campaigns are beginning to understand that they need to use it to stay ahead of the game in terms of how to operate, understand trends and generate messages and successful fundraising.”
The national parties are also investing more in Microsoft technology, with the Republican National Committee building dashboards on top of Power BI and working on the latest version of Azure. The Democratic National Committee also recently debuted a Microsoft Dynamics-based system that tracks issues and incidents at polling places.
Elections for the next U.S. president will bring voters to ballot boxes in November 2016. For voting intenders and political enthusiasts, Microsoft will provide several resources to help them participate.
“At the mid-terms we built a rich Bing experience designed to help people vote with confidence. We wanted to build on that for this election cycle and, when we talked to a range of voters, we consistently heard that people struggle to get a clear view of what their decisions mean for the issues they care most deeply about. For this elections season, we set out to build a something unique to address that problem. We are using Bing’s intelligence and access to data to give voters a unique look at the elections, candidates and issues,” says Steve Kane, product marketer at Bing. “During key moments in time where we know our users are looking for important answers to important questions, we want their experience on Bing to be as helpful, objective, informative and clarifying as possible, and give them the confidence they need to take action.”
The BPI computes scores for every candidate based on how progressive or conservative they are on a given issue by analyzing data provided by Ontheissues.org including past voting history, quotes in articles, speeches and more. Bing tracks issues such as immigration reform, gun control and the environment.
Using Bing Predicts technology, Bing has also analyzed search and social data to determine how the general public stands on issues. After taking a short survey, users can see how their own views compare to the public and to candidates through a personal political index.
Voters can also use Bing to get to know the candidates more deeply with an immersive view of all the candidates, with biographical information and a timeline of their personal and political history. Bing will also be there throughout the campaign as a source of the latest, most relevant information, presented to give a clear view on an often noisy campaign. For example, Bing can provide a unique view of what’s trending for each candidate on social media and search.
Bing has all this information, as well a general elections timeline features that includes a calendar of election events, such as the Iowa caucuses and the national nominating conventions, and other key dates that add to a well-rounded understanding of the democratic process.
Media outlets have already incorporated Microsoft Pulse – formerly Bing Pulse – into their broadcasts, using it to give a voice to voters and gauge viewer reactions in real time around big political events, like the candidate debates and the State of the Union address. More than 50 million votes have been submitted to date by engaged citizens through Microsoft Pulse; the technology is now regularly used by CNN, MSNBC and Sky News, and is fast expanding its reach to networks around the world.
As part of the recent announcement to relaunch an expanded version of the product as Microsoft Pulse, the company highlighted how it will continue to drive visibility and engagement around the 2016 election cycle, and more. Over the last year Microsoft Pulse has evolved beyond online voting and audience engagement, and now empowers users across the civic space, campaigns, causes and commerce to engage with voters and their audiences, conduct research and analysis, and collect deeper insights in real-time.
Microsoft’s foray into politics began decades ago with the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC).
This group of more than 4,000 employees voluntarily contributes to a unified fund to support candidates for public office. They support candidates on the federal and state level that are champions of the technology industry and technology public policy agendas.
“We talk about major issues that impact the company,” says Ed Ingle, managing director of government affairs at Microsoft. “These drive our industry and our products. We want to educate policymakers as they make those far-reaching legislative decisions, and the PAC serves as a way to bring all of those issues together and becomes the company’s voice on technology policy issues.”
Some of those include the protection and enforcement of intellectual property, trade, privacy, security, education and immigration.
A major perk of MSPAC is access to candidates through a speakers’ series, which runs through about 40 events a year at the Redmond, Washington company headquarters, as well as at regional campuses throughout the country. For this election cycle, speakers have included former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Marco Rubio for a MSPAC lunch and Q&A. There are also town halls with MSPAC employee participation.
“Part of the PAC’s mission is to serve as a civic engagement tool,” Ingle adds. “Employees are giving support financially, but they’re also giving their time, volunteering for campaigns and even at the national conventions. We try to connect them to those campaigns.”
Finally, getting employees to vote brings MSPAC full circle as it does its part within the company-wide efforts to bring Microsoft technology and resources to the elections and campaigns.
“What’s great about all these efforts going on all around the company is that we’re all symbiotically connected,” says Kane. “The direction we’re heading is in line with new innovations transforming the role of technology in the political landscape. With the elections project, this company is really committed to empowering people. We’re part of something bigger.”