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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Obama Campaign Releases iPhone App for Canvassing


It's been the science-fiction dream of political operatives for years: an army of volunteers, connected to the Internet as they walk from door to door, looking up names on a device and entering their responses electronically.

President Obama's campaign appears ready to make it a reality with the release of a new iPhone app that will replace the ubiquitous clipboard for Democratic canvassers.

The app, which is available on Tuesday, will allow supporters of Mr. Obama's to download a list of names in their neighborhood from the campaign's central database. No longer will they have to stop by the local campaign headquarters to get started.

And once they knock on a door, the response - positive, negative, on-the-fence - can be wirelessly slung back to the campaign's computer system instantly.

The campaign is betting that the technology will vastly expand the number of supporters who will beat the pavement for Mr. Obama in the final 100 days before the election in November.

“Our focus remains on helping make grass-roots organizing as easy and accessible as possible for the volunteers and supporters that are the heart and soul of this campaign,” said Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama. “That's why we designed our new app to help break down the distinction between online and offline organizing.”

Mr. Obama is not the first candidate to have an iPhone app or to use technology to improve the collection of information on supporters. Both political parties have put enormous resources into developing online portals that can collect information, process donations and help organize volunteers.

But prior efforts have not gone as far as the application Mr. Obama's campaign is releasing on Tuesday.

An iPhone and iPad app released by Mr. Obama's campaign several months ago provided information about nea rby local events and served as a resource for information about Mr. Obama's positions. Like the new app, the old version heavily promoted social media as a way of distributing Mr. Obama's message.

Mitt Romney's campaign released an iPhone app at the end of May. But it serves largely as a photo-sharing tool that allows users to add pro-Romney phrases - like “I'm a mom for Mitt” - to a picture before posting it to Twitter or sharing it on Facebook.

Neither Mr. Obama's first app nor the one by Mr. Romney provides users access to canvassing lists.

Those lists typically contain the names of voters that the Obama campaign believes are supporters who might need a reminder to go to the polls, or potential supporters who are on the fence and could be convinced to vote for the president.

“Hey [NAME], my name is [YOUR NAME] and I'm a volunteer with Obama for America,” the script in the phone directs the volunteers to say. “How are you today? [ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION]”

The app allows the volunteer to designate a person as one of seven categories, from “Strong Obama” to “Strong Republican” or “Not Voting.”

Volunteers can add notes and e-mail addresses. When they click a button, the app says the finished information will be sent to “VoteBuilder,” the Obama campaign's central database of supporters.

In the old days, volunteers would pick up paper lists at a local office, returning them to the office at the end of the day. Other volunteers would enter the information collected into a computer. Now, that process will be largely automated.

For those who don't want to canvass, the app will also provide direct links to voter registration drives, local area phone banks, and - of course - the ability to quickly donate to the campaign.

A spokesman for the campaign said a version of the application for the Android operating system should be available within a matter of days. The iPhone ap p can be downloaded from iTunes.