There’s An App For That (or Not): The Role of Mobile Apps in The 2012 Election

If the outcome of the 2008 presidential election resulted from the Obama campaign’s use of social media, then what technology has defined the 2012 race?

The 57th quadrennial presidential election is less than a week away, and I can’t help but wonder what the winning technological tactic will be this year. Are voters turning to mobile apps to learn about political candidates, discuss issues, donate to a party, and get election results?

I tested a few mobile apps to find out if they have a place in politics or if they only add to the noise.  All of the apps that I sampled were free and available in the App Store and Google Play.

Mobile Fanfare

I started my mobile app research by downloading the smartphone apps for the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns.  Each campaign is represented by apps that offer information about the candidate’s political history, major issues, speaking events, and donation opportunities.

When I opened the Obama campaign app, I was presented with the options to share my location and receive push notifications.  By allowing location sharing, I could view events related to Obama’s campaign that are nearby. While testing the app on October 23, 2012, this section included listings for phone banks.  


The news page on the Obama app contains numerous calls to action, encouraging app users to volunteer by calling voters from home or to “spread the word” via social sharing links.  

The Obama app links to YouTube videos featuring footage from the debates and speaking events; however, three of the four video links resulted in error pages on YouTube’s website when I was testing the app on my iPhone.  

Despite these issues, the Obama app provided a lot of resources for voters to action.  






The Romney-Ryan campaign app contained similar information about news, major issues, and blog posts as well as a handful of embedded campaign videos.  

The Romney-Ryan app took a cue from 2008 by including some social content like tweets and blog posts.

While the Obama app makes more calls to action, the Romney app focuses more on sharing the campaign’s voice through the Twitter and Blog sections.




All in all, the Obama and Romney mobile apps were useful in explaining the issues, the news, and how to send their campaigns some money. However, it pained me to see that the YouTube videos in their apps were nothing more than campaign TV commercials.   

Both apps could benefit from some unique content that makes mobile voters want to stick around for a while.  I’d like to see candid video footage from the candidate’s travels across the country or a vlog (video blog) post about each candidate’s favorite meal on the road. If the candidates are too busy to hop in front of the camera, then let’s hear what it’s like to be a volunteer at the polls

A Social Sentiment Agenda

To find out where the election is heading, I turned to another mobile app called Twelect 2012.  Twelect is a sentiment analysis app for iPhone and iPad that uses an algorithm that ranks “emotion factors” in Twitter data to provide instantaneous insights into the 2012 election.  Twelect is among a number of sentiment analysis tools, but I chose it for its simple interface and ability to analyze over 10,000 tweets an hour.  

The Twitter stream on the app can be sorted to show comments about Obama, Romney, or both, and you can pause the continuous stream of mentions by touching the tweet you’d like to read.  It would be really interesting if Twelect color-coded each tweet in real time in order to show how it’s algorithm is assigning either positive or negative sentiment to tweets. 



, Twitter’s political index, does not have a native mobile app but renders beautifully in the mobile browser. 

Twindex presents sentiment ratings for Obama and Romney, and it has an option to view the number of mentions about a particular political topic, such as foreign policy, the economy, taxes, etc.  

This information is readily available on the web (, but exploring the topics and tweets makes for a fun mobile diversion when you’re stuck in line at the grocery store or waiting for your bus to arrive.


There isn’t a consensus on how accurate sentiment analysis tools are for determining overall public sentiment yet alone voting decisions; however, these tools could someday provide valuable insights into elections and the examples of Twelect and Twindex shows just how nicely they can work with mobile.


According to the Pew Internet study “The State of the 2012 Election – Mobile Politics,” 88% of registered voters own a cell phone.  During the 2012 election, voters have used their phones to send text messages about the campaign with their contacts, make donations via text messaging services, and to read and share commentary on social networking sites.

Despite voter use of mobile devices for political purposes, only a fraction of registered voters have used a political mobile app.

During the 2012 presidential race, mobile devices have facilitated political information sharing and donations while mobile apps have not played much of a role at all.  

Do you think that the mobile app could become a more powerful tool in future elections?  If so, what needs to happen on that platform to keep the public engaged?