I know this post is late, but it is still good stuff!
How often do you read your Facebook, Tweet, or some other form of social media? These media plus big data helped to win the election. Big data is the massive amount of data that is created every second of the day via social media, emails, retail transactions, searches, etc. Several pundits and data analysts, such as Nate Silver, used forecasting data to predict the election with surprising accuracy. There is a lot of information out in the world about all of us – - most of free! So let’s look at both campaigns use of technology during this electoral campaign.
The President Obama Campaign:
The DNC campaign had a “one up” on the GOP, thanks to Howard Dean. I know this is about the Obama campaign, but here me out. Howard Dean ran failed presidential bid, but he pioneered the Internet operation focusing on “people power”. In fact, most of his web team came out of technology. What this means is the technology experts got into politics, instead of the other way around. The experts brought the technology with them and learned the politics. So, now on to Obama, big data, and digital outreach.
The Obama campaign used datasets and digital outreach. In 2008, the Obama campaign turned to Facebook and email campaigns to get the word out and encourage people to vote. They did not stop when President Obama won in 2008, they continued to give updates – often times to their network first – throughout the Presidency. The Obama campaign continued to use technology during the campaign.
The demographics of Facebook have an abundance of 35 year old women, with Twitter reporting the average user is 27 years old. The Obama campaign used this data with public data and their internal data to build models and that successfully assisted the team in fundraising, turnout, and voter persuasion. The Obama campaign focused on local social media and attempted to use the data along with demographics to connect with each user. Obama humanized himself with technology, using it to respond to events at the speed of light (okay that was dramatic, but you know what I mean!). The Obama campaign created websites that went viral, detailing information such as Mitt Romney’s tax plan. President Obama used technology to pinpoint the issues per state.
The Obama team understood the complexities of a technology campaign. They took 18 months to merge their databases into a single database and hired an analytics team 5 times bigger than the one in 2008. With this data, the campaign ran the election 66,000 times every night using the data to predict the outcome. Wow! What a use of big data! The article “How Social Media, data mining, and new-fangled technology tipped the 2012 election” asked a great question. Didn’t Romney have access to the same data?
The Romney Campaign
The Romney Campaign took things from a larger picture. They looked at the data on a national level. A campaigner, John Ekdahl, mentions the Romney Campaign missed many opportunities. They tried to connect volunteers via smart phones, but that did not go well. The system named ORCA was supposed to pull data from around the country and send instructions to field workers. It was to help them use strike list. These are lists where someone marks off who has voted and target the folks who have not voted. Ekdahl asked many important questions such as ‘Has the system been stress tested”, but he was most ignored. The answer was probably “no” since the system crashed for 90 minutes on election day coupled with many volunteers not understanding what they were supposed to do with the app, where to get it, or had never heard of it.
Sometimes the technology was outdated, such as a square app for donations or a website for other donation collections. The initial site contained copy from Obama’s page! The Republican campaign was very reactive. Also, Romney’s team did not begin to engage in technology and data until after the primaries vs. years for the Obama campaign. Oddly enough, in 2004 the Republicans won because of successful micro targeting, but they did not continue to build upon the data. The GOP normally starts over with new people and data with each new campaign.
After reviewing the article, I realize it seems rather biased towards the Obama campaign, but facts are facts. If you Google “Romney and election technology” vs. “Obama and election technology”, you get a much smaller list than Obama. Truth is the Republicans relied on older techniques, such as 10 year old voter turnout information.
Miscellaneous election tech news
On a separate note, the 2012 election used everything from Windows 8 based tablets to emails and fax (thanks to Hurricane Sandy) to make sure everyone voted. This already existed so our military personnel could vote. There was online voter registration and technology made it easy for the disabled to vote. Technology was used to create widgets so people could say “I voted” to apps helping people find their correct place to vote – this especially came in handy with prescient changes. There were both positives and negatives to some of the technology used during the election, but that is another story.
Greenemeier, L. “Election 2012: Sandy Prompts to N.J. Extend E-mail voting” from Scientific
America November 5, 2012 accessed on November 13, 2012 http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/11/05/election-2012-sandy-prompts-n-j-to-extend-e-mail-voting/
Hellweg, E. “2012: The First Big Data Election” Taken from Harvard Business Review. November 13, 2012. Accessed on November 13, 2012 http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2012/11/2012_the_first_big_data_electi.html
Hoover, J. “Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches”. Taken from Information Week, November 7, 2012 accessed on November 13, 2012. http://www.informationweek.com/government/information-management/election-2012-new-voting-tech-caused-som/240062512
Kaur, S. “How Technology Turned the Tide in the Election.” Taken from Huffington Post Online. November 12, 2012 accessed on November 13, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-satwant-kaur/how-technology-turned-the_b_2117950.html
McHugh, M. “How social media, data mining, and new-fangled technology tipped the 2012 election”. Taken from Digital Trends, Nov. 12, 2012 accessed on November 13, 2012 http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/how-technology-tipped-the-2012-election/
Weiner, R. “How Badly did Mitt Romney lose the technology fight?” Taken from the Washington Post November 9, 2012 accessed on November 13, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/11/09/how-badly-did-mitt-romney-lose-the-technology-fight/