Smartphones New Weapon in Battle for Swing States

A new study by Localytics looks at mobile usage across all fifty states and finds that 70% of the most active iPhone states vote Democrat while 70% of the most active Android states lean Republican. With the Obama and Romney campaigns seeking every advantage, targeted smartphone advertising will be useful when trying to reach Democratic and Republican voters and volunteers in swing states, which cluster around the average iPhone and Android distribution.

The 2008 presidential election season marked the first time that candidates allocated substantial campaign resources to mobile marketing. Many attributed President Obama’s early success to his campaign’s focus on mobile phones as an effective medium to reach younger voters, mostly through SMS text messaging. Now in 2012, sharp growth in smartphone adoption coupled with improvements in mobile apps and mobile ad technology has made it easier to reach and connect with voters through their phones. The challenge for Obama and Mitt Romney is now optimizing digital ad spending and delivering ads where they’ll generate the most impact.


Blue States Lean iPhone, Red States Android

There are now more Android devices in the US than iPhones, but Localytics research shows that iPhone owners are still more active users of mobile apps, making up roughly 70% of the combined Android and iPhone app starts. Localytics’ research also found that iPhone app usage exceeds Android usage in every state across the US -- but there is a significant variation in the distribution of that share across the states.

Mobile OS usage by state and political leaning

The above chart compares each state’s smartphone usage to the US average and is then color-coded each to match FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast showing projected Democrat (blue), Republican (red), and Undecided (beige) outcomes. To compute these results, Localytics studied US-based mobile app usage on iPhone and Android devices from May 2012 through the end of June. The study compares iPhone share of the combined usage in each US state to the average for the US.

Localytics found that 70% of the top ten most active iPhone states were predominantly blue or Democrat states. These tended to be coastal and more densely populated, or more urban. Conversely, states with the lowest iPhone usage are found in the less densely populated states in the middle of the country, and 70% of these least active iPhone states were red or Republican states.


New Weapon in the Battle for Swing States

Last election, candidates utilized mobile mainly to send unsolicited text messages, a practice that led to complaints with the FCC. In 2012, both campaigns are eschewing mobile spam in favor of a more calculated, multi-channel approach. To target new voters and activate volunteers, smartphone marketing via geo-targeted mobile ads (like President Obama on your favorite Pandora station), mobile websites, social media, and geo-triggered alerts has grown in grown in favor. As more of our time and attention becomes focused on our phones, politicians are realizing a new channel to influence the undecided vote. Strategic insights into smartphone political ad spending could become an important new weapon in helping tip the balance for battleground states.

The fate of the 2012 election hangs largely in the balance of states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. By looking at smartphone activity in the other states, campaign marketers may be able to more accurately target prospective swing state voters. For example, knowing that Democratic voters tend to be heavier iPhone users, Obama’s campaign could broadcast iPhone ads in swing states that encourage supporters to “get out the vote”. Attack ads could then run on Android devices in an attempt to sway Republican voters.

Political strategists reason that the battle for the White House will largely be determined by centrist political independents. By understanding mobile users proclivity for certain political parties, candidates could expand and improve upon the targeting strategies that have already distinguished this campaign from prior years. Knowing how often, how long, and what platform voters are using in each state could go a long way in shaping this election.



Localytics provides an app analytics service for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and HTML5 apps on over 300 million devices. For this study, Localytics analyzed US-based mobile app usage on iPhone and Android devices from May 2012 through the end of June 2012. To report the intensity of app usage, Localytics analyzed the number of sessions generated from each platform, or the number of times apps were opened during the period. The study compares iPhone share of the combined usage in each US state to the average for the US.