Romney Campaign May Have Advantage Reaching 'Off The Grid' Voters

The Romney campaign may have an advantage over Obama in reaching voters who are 'off the grid.'

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Zac Moffatt, the digital director of the Mitt Romney campaign, has been vindicated.

For months, the 32-year-old online strategist has been saying he believed voters were going further "off the grid," meaning they watched less and less live television.

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Last week, new research from advertising firm SAY Media proved Moffatt was right. The research was conducted in conjunction with Republican polling firms Public Opinion Strategies and Targeted Victory (co-founded by Moffatt) and Democratic firms Chong & Koster and SEA Polling.

The study found that almost 45 percent of likely voters now prefer streaming video on their smartphones, tablets or other devices over live TV. The most marked shifts happened in two battleground states, Ohio and Florida, where voters were found to be acquiring more smartphones and watching more streaming video than average national consumers.

"You can't argue with this study. Behaviors have changed," Moffatt told Whispers. "We're seeing an explosion of mobile... of people going off the grid."

Moffatt says he realized television consumption habits had changed when his mom became what he calls a "timeshifter" like him—someone who watches a show after recording it, rather than on live TV. When watching recordings, his mom is able to fast-forward through campaign ads.

"I think it's funny. People tell me you need to reach younger people in the campaign," he says. "No, you need to reach people."

Voters over the age of 45 make up over a third of smartphone ownership, according to the study.

The SAY study is a welcome sign for the Romney campaign after a Pew study on both campaigns' digital usage released last week slammed the Republican challenger. Pew said the Obama campaign holds a significant digital advantage over the Romney campaign because it is far more active on many platforms (the Romney campaign averaged 1 tweet per day, while the Obama campaign averaged 29).

Moffatt argues activity doesn't matter as much as engaging with voters, and that the Romney campaign is more engaged.

The online strategist also points out that the campaign has advertised on a variety of different platforms.

Michael Beach, who co-founded Targeted Victory with Moffatt, says pre-roll advertising before videos is becoming one platform on which to reach voters online. Facebook ads have become important, too, Beach says, though their "best use right now is to reach your base, because people I.D. themselves as a Mitt Romney fan and then you can mobilize them." Independents, who are less likely to self-identify, are harder to reach via Facebook.

The Obama campaign told Whispers it had also built digital ad innovations, "such as cutting-edge online tools, a smartphone app and resources like GottaVote.org and the OFA Truth Team."  In June, CNN reported the Obama campaign had spent twice as much as Moffatt on online advertising.

But Moffatt says he "always knew we would be outspent by Obama campaign... But we also knew we had to be smarter."

As voters move off the grid, their experience has also changed. David Tokheim of SAY media says the experience for voters of watching an ad has moved from "passive" to "interactive."

"And because the medium is interactive, there has to be a very dynamic, grassroots response in how people are being communicated to," Tokheim says. "An ad experience online is something you can share. Whether a campaign makes ads people want to share with their friends... could make or break them."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.