In an historic Alabama senate election, Democrat Doug Jones beat out Republican Roy Moore, becoming the first Democrat elected to the US Senate in Alabama in 25 years, as CBS News reported. Jones’ win is a landmark victory for Democrats in the historically red state, but the way his campaign was funded highlights the sea change of digital transformation in politics.

Like many politicians, Jones took to online fundraising to help support his campaign. Jones relied on a platform called ActBlue that handled all of his online funds. In total, for all of its users, ActBlue noted in a report that it raised more than $474 million in 2017, and that it has seen a record number of donations.

Of course, crowdfunding is nothing new in politics, but its use has been growing, and speciality platforms dedicated to online political fundraising have popped up all over the place. For many, the major starting point was 2004, when Howard Dean leveraged certain practices relevant to crowdfunding and new social media platforms to drive his campaign.

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These tactics were also employed by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. Obama followed suit with crowdfunding and social media efforts, but also used platforms like YouTube to get advertising out to a broader audience, and for much cheaper cost than traditional TV ads.

The campaign of Pekka Haavisto for president in Finland is another example of the power of new tech tools in politics. As noted by researchers from the University of Helsinki and the Hanken School of Economics, Green party candidate Haavisto came in second place out of eight candidates, despite funding and staff disadvantages. His campaign supporters organized through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and the campaign used new forms of media such as memes to grow support.

Social media and online fundraising are now almost foundational in political campaigns, and big data is emerging as the next tech trend that will further drive its digital transformation.

In the 2016 US presidential election, big data was everywhere. From the primaries all the way up to November, big data gave insights into how much money the candidates were raising, voter sentiment, and more. One firm, CFB Strategies, was able to use big data to raise around $92 million during the campaign.

With the prevalence of big data in politics, the next logical step is for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to take a more widespread role in future campaigns. Leveraging the data available on voters, ads will become even more targeted, hitting on the hot button issues that exist in certain towns or regions.

This digital transformation doesn’t come without a price, as DDoS attacks and other cybersecurity attacks on campaign websites made headlines this year as well. This trend, combined with foreign influence in campaign advertising, means that voters will need to be ever more critical of the political information they receive in the future.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, utilizing online fundraising platforms to raise support.
  2. Crowdfunding, social media, and online activism grew during the 2004 and 2008 elections, and are now commonplace in politics.
  3. Big data, AI, and machine learning will power the future of elections, but cybersecurity threats remain.