Despite the billion plus dollars spent on TV adverts and both campaign’s giant social media operations the humble telephone still played a pivotal part in Trump’s victory.
During the American election, if you were near a phone and in a swing state, you were going to get a political call.
Just like if you turned on the radio or the television there would be an election advert, if you had a phone it would be used to try and get you to vote either way.
It could be the candidate’s recorded voice telling you what they think you want to hear or more often an attack on their opponent, a volunteer begging you to vote for their canidate, a staffer asking for a donation or a pollster asking that most personal of questions – “who will you vote for.”
Due aggressive telemarketing in America there has been a backlash against direct sales calling with more and more people signing up for the ever-more popular “no-calling lists” – however, political calls are exempt from these list. The candidates’ freedom of speech trumps everything.
Up to date voter phone lists are gold dust for the campaigns and party’s pay big bucks for them, numbers of “undecided voters” are priceless. I met a fella in Philadelphia who signed all his ex-girlfriends and their new boyfriends up as “undecided voters” for both parties – which could mean hundreds of calls a week for those poor souls.
Holly Robichaud has over 20 years experience in helping Republicans get elected into office and passionately believes in the importance of phones for campaigns, despite the rise of the internet, phone apps and social media.
She said: “Phones are a multi-purpose campaign tool.
“They are used to raise money, organize volunteers, deliver messages, increase or decrease voter turnout, and help determine both the top issues and how a candidate is fairing in the race.
“On Election Day it is vital to call your identified supporters to remind them to vote.
“This is more important than standing at the polls with a sign and waving at voters as voting is not the number one priority for 99% of the general public, so they need to be reminded and nagged to vote.
“If you employ your calls correctly, they can maximize turnout by an additional 4 per cent.”
When I was volunteering for Obama in Florida in 2008 one the first things I noticed in the South Beach office when I started, besides the mountains of food, were the countless phones.
There were old school Nokias all over the place, on the desks, chairs and even the floor.
And as a volunteer my first job was to ring voters, I was given a list of Democrat supporters (they might have once registered an interest in the party) and I had to ask whether they had voted yet (polls open two weeks before the election in Florida), if they were going to vote for Obama, and if they needed a lift to the polling station.
It was hit and miss, personally I reckon it was about one in six people I got to speak to, but up and down the country, Obama had over a million volunteers and most of them were put to work on the phones.
This time around Trump did not have the volunteers the Democrats did and that is why talk before the election was her “ground game” would win her the election. Now she did win two million more votes than Trump, but he won the swing states.
And he did this by working smart, through targeted polling of voters and ensuring his supporters came out to vote and realised despite the hundreds of polls pointing to a big loss their man could win.
50 days before the election the Trump Campaign launched Trump Talk, an interactive phone banking system developed for supporters to spread Mr. Trump’s message to Make America Great Again.
This bypassed the whole going into the local Trump office to work for the campaign, and as the Trump campaign did not have the whole backing of the Republican party machine and had far fewer offices than Hilary this was a brilliant move.
Trump Talk allowed supporters to remotely call Trump supporters from a computer or phone. They could do it whenever they want, were given individual goals when they logged on and could win prizes. Top callers could win dinner with Mr Trump or his deputy Mike Pence, tickets to events and other campaign merchandise.
At the Trump Talk launch Camilo Sandoval, director of Data Operations said: “Mr Trump’s army of volunteers have a high passion per capita, and every voter can make a huge difference in this race with just a few calls a day.
“Every call brings us one step closer to Making America Great Again. Trump Talk is old-fashioned GOTV phone banking made fun and easy – it is where the rubber really hits the road.”
Trump Talk complimented the America First smartphone app, produced by Political Social Media LLC, which made apps for the National Rifle Association, CatholicVote.org and previously Trump’s defeated rival Ted Cruz.
The app offered news and other text content, videos, a donations channel and social media components that allow for Trump-Pence supporters to communicate and connect.
Users could also find nearby like-minded activists on a state-by-state basis and the success of this part of the app forshadowed Trump Talk.
Before Trump Talk and the America First app the campaign had set up an internet call centre Callfire. Volunteers gave a few details about themselves over email, then they would get a link to the Callfire website where they would sign up and pick part of the campaign to help – ie New York voter registration reminders – Get The Vote in Iowa.
They would then get a phone call which after answered would automatically divert to a potential voter. As simple as that.
Due to the sheer divisiveness of the election and that so many Trump supporters were first timers when it came to political campaigning both CallFire and Trump Talk was perfect for the none-traditional campaign.
Facebook became a battleground, friends fell out with friends because of the election, and I met countless people in America during the campaign who went offline until it was over.
But with Trump Talk and Callfire supporters could do work for the campaign without risking being seen or offending friends and family who hated their choice for President.
And it was easy.
Trump supporter Samuel Roberts said: “Not many people actually volunteer for campaigns, and for good reasons.
“If you want to volunteer to knock on doors, or put together yard signs, or even join a telephone bank, it’s a big commitment.
“You have to drive down to wherever the campaign headquarters is. You have to find parking and go through orientation.
“It can easily kill whole evenings, or even whole days. Since Trump fans tend to have jobs and social lives, it can be hard to find the time.”
“But this meant no gas costs, no driving, no dealing with any weirdos at a campaign HQ.
“It was the easiest method of volunteering imaginable.”
There obviously one flaw in this system and that is that it opens itself up to mischief-makers.
I met a couple in a Baltimore bar before the election who loved nothing more to end a night than getting stoned and phoning Trump supporters to either abuse them or make false promises on behalf of Trump. They laughed long and hard at the fun they had during the campaign.
But as The Donald sits in the White House as the most powerful man in the world, whose laughing now.