2012: How Will Mobile Factor into This Year’s Presidential Race?

2012 Presidential Election Mitt Romney Barack Obama Mobile Website Strategy

It’s 2012, a Presidential election year, and we’ve taken a look at the candidates’ campaigns from a different perspective—the mobile perspective. Specifically, we’ve examined how each candidate is capitalizing on smartphones as a way to reach their target voters. Both candidates share an awareness of the importance of being mobile, however, as we dig a little deeper, we find that the differences in the two candidates’ approaches represent an ongoing debate taking place over the mobile web.

Mobile’s Potential in this Year’s Election

One of the great successes of Obama’s 2008 campaign was his groundbreaking use of social media. Social media had only recently matured into the powerful form of communication that it is today, and Obama’s campaign took full advantage of this channel to gain supporters in a way that wasn’t available in previous elections.

In the 2012 election, we’re seeing the rise of another widespread and powerful communication tool – the smartphone! As ownership grows daily, harnessing the power of campaigning via mobile devices and smartphones could help give either candidate the upper hand over the other.

One of the great, ongoing debates related to the mobile web is responsive web design versus a hybrid mobile website, and which to choose in which circumstances. As it turns out, one of this year’s candidates chose a responsive design for their campaign website, while the other opted for a hybrid mobile website (as if there weren’t enough to disagree on already!).

Let’s look a little closer at our two candidates’ mobile strategies:

Mitt Romney—A Hybrid Mobile Site

Mitt Romney Mobile Website 2012


Romney’s campaign uses a hybrid mobile website, meaning he has a separate URL that the user is directed to when they access his website from a mobile device. This website is designed and built specifically to fit on a smartphone screen and has buttons and navigation that cater to someone using their fingers to browse, rather than a mouse. At the same time, it is hybrid in that it is fed frequently-updated content from the campaign’s main desktop site (for example: his blog, videos, and campaign photos), so it doesn’t require additional maintenance. Romney’s mobile-optimized  website features a prominent image, his slogan “We Believe in America”, expandable and collapsable menu navigation, and a few clear calls to action – most importantly “Donate”!

As part of his mobile website experience, Romney has enabled people to connect with the campaign in an easy manner, and to access information tailored to on-the-go users. Voters can easily donate to the campaign, volunteer, connect with social media and view resources, e.g. blogs and videos–all in the palm of their hand.

Romney has done many things right with his mobile website in terms of his menu structure, calls to action and the content delivered. However, one criticism of Romney’s mobile site is that the images are low resolution, causing them to be noticeably pixelated. Although this is more of a technical issue than it is tactical, his images appear very grainy when compared to the crisp text. Lower image quality does keep image size down, which means faster load times, but as screen resolutions get sharper and sharper, it’s important to make sure your images are up to par so that they load as sharp and crisp as the accompanying HTML text. The images on Romney’s mobile site, most notably the main image on his home page, are low quality; although they may suffice for older smartphones, when loaded on higher resolution devices, like Apple’s Retina or Android’s Super AMOLED displays, they show significant pixelation. The images on Romney’s desktop website are impeccable, and his campaign should be sure to maintain this level of quality across all marketing channels, even if it seems like a minor issue.

One other oversight that we noticed, specifically on shorter iPhone screens (pre-iPhone 5), is that all of Romney’s calls-to-action are buried beneath the fold, so visitors aren’t immediately greeted with any friendly user flows (see image above). The user must scroll to discover these calls-to-action. However, on longer smartphone screens, this is not an issue.

On the flip side, Romney effectively incorporates social media with his mobile website, which is a crucial component, since according to recent statistics, people access social media through mobile about 40% of the time. The Romney mobile site allows the user to see direct feeds from their own social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter, and also allows the user to sign in via their social media profiles to access additional information about his campaign. This makes it very easy for people to connect with Romney, ”Like” him, learn about his ideas, and most importantly, share them with their friends.

President Barack Obama —A Responsive Approach

Barack Obama Mobile Website 2012


While Obama doesn’t use a unique mobile website URL, his website is responsive, meaning it will rearrange the layout of the website according to the screen size of the device being used. This allows for a friendly user experience no matter what device is accessing the website, whether it’s desktop, tablet or smartphone. Another clear advantage is that a responsive website is all managed through one CMS, therefore changes to content or features only need to be deployed once.

Obama’s responsive designs allow for a robust mobile website with lots of information and many ways for users to connect with his campaign. His main call to action (identical to his opponent’s – “Donate”), is prominently displayed upon the screen loading. As the user scrolls down, there is a feed set up that features relevant stories and articles, which neatly pulls together outside resources that promote the Obama campaign. Below the feed, there is a block of navigation controls that are expandable and collapsable, and allow the user to explore content and learn more about the campaign, view Obama’s opinions on different political issues, and check out recent political advertisements. Finally, below the navigation menu, the site provides links to external resources and social media.

There are a few downsides to Obama’s approach, which are consistent with the pitfalls of many other responsive designs. One major criticism is that Obama’s site has a very high load time on smartphones, and the pages are long and require lots of scrolling. Since it is responsive for smartphones, it squeezes all the content from the desktop website into one, long column. This is not an optimal smartphone experience because the user must scroll long web pages to read through and find information, and load times are significantly higher because the phone must load the whole website, even though it has a much slower processing speed than a computer.

Responsive design is also very expensive and requires a great deal of time to develop. However, the automatic approach does provide many efficiency-related benefits. With new devices coming out each day, each with different screen sizes, responsive websites will automatically render according to the size of the screen. A responsive website also lives at one url (for all devices) and is managed through one content management system, which can make it easier for SEO and analytics tracking.

The Great Debate

While I highly doubt the candidates intended this, their opposing approaches to the mobile web represent the ongoing debate of responsive design vs. hybrid mobile website. To date, neither strategy has been proven to be more or less effective. Each has its drawbacks and benefits, and the decision on which to use should be made on a case-by-case basis. Even though our two candidates have taken different approaches to mobile, both have demonstrated that they recognize the importance of being available to their followers through new and relevant channels of communication.

The possibilities on the mobile web are virtually endless, and regardless of the outcome, we’re excited to see how history will be impacted by mobile in this year’s election.

Good day, and God bless the smartphone!

What kind of impact do you think mobile will have on this year’s election?

*Note: Bluetrain Mobile does not endorse either political candidate or party, and is neither for or against their differing approaches to the mobile web.