The Business of Digital Politics
although this book is principally focused on the history of political consulting, the origins of the industry shed light on our own time as well. This is because the evolution of political work is ongoing and the occupational struggle that characterized the rise of the consulting industry will continue to shape the nature of elections as well as broader features of the American political system. As in the past, efforts to better understand the dispositions and intentions of the voting public can produce innovations in technique that challenge existing sources of political intelligence and advice. Like radio, polling, or television, digital campaign tools such as Internet advertising or data analytics have altered the character of political work. However, the ability of these newer technologies to target supporters with greater precision and efficiency than traditional media is unlikely to disrupt the occupational control consultants currently enjoy over the conduct of campaigns.
Compared with previous breakthroughs in technique, advances in digital campaigns are taking place amid a fully developed market for political services. The commercialization of political work over the past century makes it less likely that digital politics will produce a radical opening of the campaign field. Instead, recent innovations have become the basis for new products and services that enhance consultants’ control over political work. Moreover, the business of politics is increasingly concentrated in a few large firms, and a handful of consulting companies already dominate the digital niche within the industry.
At the same time, advances in digital campaigning are taking place amid a broader trend toward the corporate consolidation of political work. In recent years, a number of prominent consulting firms have become part of global conglomerates, integrating campaign tools with advertising, public relations, crisis communications, and brand management. Consequently, the business of politics is but one facet in a much larger and more lucrative field of corporate communications and public affairs that manages the public sphere on behalf of multinational corporations. In some respects, this corporate consolidation brings the business of politics full circle. The consulting industry emerged in part by adapting the tools of market research and product advertising to political work; now these same skills honed in the course of hard-fought political campaigns are in great demand by corporations that see the cultivation of public support as an essential part of their business strategy.