President Barack Obama's long shadow over the 2016 presidential campaign is also falling on mobile phone app development.
Among the 18 major-party candidates who are aiming to succeed Obama in January, 2017, only three have developed apps at all, and none has come close to matching the success the Obama campaign had with its app in the president's 2012 re-election.
The app war's biggest winners so far are the three Republican candidates who have released apps.
Sen.Ted Cruz of Texas, whose campaign app has been downloaded more than 15,000 times in the three months following its release, has a 4.6 out of 5 rating among users.
While Cruz is only polling at 7.8 percent in Real Clear Politics' average of polls, he has a handheld head start on his rivals.
“It is strategic for Ted Cruz to get out there early,” Allen Fuller, a Republican digital consultant, told AMI Newswire. “He’s a grassroots-focused candidate. So, having a mobile leans into that and helps organize his volunteers and supporters.”
Only two other candidates have put out apps for their supporters. Fuller had some praise for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s mobile product. “The Paul campaign's app has more," he said. "You get news, you can make memes, it is more of a social tool, whereas Ted Cruz’s app is more of an activist tool.”
Paul is currently at 3.2 percent in the RCP average of polls.
The other app belongs to Sen. Marco Rubio and is a leftover from his senatorial campaign. Rubio's poll numbers average 9.2 percent, putting the Florida freshman in third place in the crowded GOP field.
On the Democratic Party side, Hillary Clinton, the clear front-runner, appears to be developing an app but has yet to reveal much information about a release date or what users should expect.
“They are hiring mobile developers like crazy,” Fuller said. “So they are working on something big.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old Democratic candidate who is solidly polling second in the race, also has not yet developed a campaign app, and it is unclear if his campaign is working on one.
Sanders' supporters are putting together a grassroots effort to volunteer time and expertise in creating an app for the candidate. The tactic recalls Obama's 2008 insurgent campaign, which was fueled by the free efforts of the candidate's energized supporters.
As the presidential primaries kick into high gear, candidates are hard-pressed to build campaign tools that appeal to younger voters and keep their base informed. The importance of having a good campaign mobile app was demonstrated in the 2012 election cycle, when Obama’s campaign created a successful mobile interface.
“The smartphone is how younger voters communicate, it is how they get news,” Fuller said. “For a candidate who recognizes that and meets millennials where they are, that is a feather in their cap. That is a plus to build relationships with those younger voters.”
Fuller, who has worked in technology and politics for the past decade, pointed to Obama’s app as an example of how such technology can have an impact on the direction of a campaign’s digital communications.
“When you are building a mobile app for a campaign it is important to keep in mind who the audience is, who is likely to go download it,” Fuller said. “The person who is going to download it is not just a voter but also a supporter – someone who is an advocate. So, it is important to not only have the tool itself, the app itself, but to have the tools in it that empower that individual supporter and basically put a field office on their smart phone.”
“The Obama campaign's mobile app set the bar,” Fuller said. “It put a field office on a smartphone. So, a supporter could download their app and then they could canvas, they could accept donations, they could send messages to their friends, recruit friends to also be supporters and they could get rapid response messages.”
In contrast, Fuller said the best the Mitt Romney campaign could muster was an app aimed at alerting supporters to the campaign’s vices presidential candidate selection.
“It was this whole mobile app built around a single event and, yeah, they got some downloads, but then after that it was useless,” Fuller said. “It was not a tool for canvassing, it wasn’t a tool for voter mobilization. It wasn’t very strategic."