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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Moneyball Campaigns: Strategic Data In Politics

The movie Moneyball is about how data-analysis changed baseball. It's a true story and it details how a team with almost no funding made it to the playoffs after losing not just one, but three of its super-stars. The baseball-genius economist behind the theory threw out conventional wisdom and looked at nothing but numbers--and one specific number at that: how often each player got on base.

In the age of data political campaigning is changing--it's becoming more data driven. The major campaigns are playing moneyball instead of 'baseball.'

Getting To Know YOU ...
The key to winning "baseball" was getting players onto the bases. Forget about stealing. Don't worry about home-runs. Even fielding takes a back-seat to the all-important getting on base. In political terms that translates to:

  1. Getting your partisans to the polls
  2. Finding new voters who are yours ... and getting them to the polls.
  3. Persuading voters who might be persuadable ... and getting them to the polls.
Number One is all about motivation: send messages that get the right people fired up and combine that with reminding them to go vote (studies have shown that simply reminding people to go vote--without any political message at all--works--so just make sure that everyone on your call / door-knock list is gonna vote the way you want them to).

Number Two is about finding young people or unregistered voters and going through the work-intensive process of getting them signed up. That means understanding demographic trends that lead people to your party and engaging them.

Number Three is similar to Number Two but the message is even more important. Where as #2 you can, for example, simply sign up minority voters and assume that they'll vote in general the way their minority votes (or older wealthier people who, for whatever reason, might not be voting?). However, message can also hinge on key specific issues. For example, Snowmobiles:
This year [2006] the GOP is going after the 260,000 residents of Michigan who ride snowmobiles (since the state keeps records of licenses, finding out who owns a snowmobile is easy.) Snowmobilers are particularly angry that Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's pro-environmental stance has held up the creation of a trail that would link the communities of Gaylord and Cheboygan, and would likely be receptive to promises by Republicans to take their side on the issue.
That was 2006. Compared to 2012, it's the stone age.

Who ARE You?
 In order to execute on this strategy the campaigns are ramping up their analytics expertise. On the part of Team Obama:
The Obama campaign has hired a corporate data mining expert, Rayid Ghani, to serve as the campaign's "chief scientist." Ghani has previously researched how to use a retailer's record of customer purchases topredict what a particular customer will buy during a given shopping trip -- the same kind of data crunching that Target has apparently used to predict whether shoppers are pregnant. The campaign is continuing to hire "analytics engineers" and other data experts.
Team Romney is going lower-tech: they are monitoring the Obama campaign's moves and trying to reverse engineer what they know from that:
In the primaries, Romney’s advisers had little confidence that there was much logic at all behind his rivals’ moves, and the two-time candidate outmaneuvered analyticallyamateurish opponents with well-plotted discipline and attention to detail. Now forced to play catch-up against a savvy incumbent, Romney’s team acknowledges they are not aiming to match what Obama has built in Chicago: A unique, in-house analytical empire that has developed an unrivaled capacity to churn through voter data and translate insights into tactics. Because of this capacity, Romney advisers assume that what they see the president doing in public must have a good deal of sense behind it. "The Obama team had the luxury of knowing exactly what they'd be doing on July 1, 2012 because they've been planning for six years—definitely three-and-a-half years,” says Zac Moffatt, Romney’s digital director. So instead of devoting their analytical energies to out-strategizing the president, Romney’s advisers are trying to hack Obama’s code and turn it against him.

What Do They Know?
What do they know about you? Well, they're not going to tell you that. After all, it's proprietary data. But keep in mind that it can change things far more subtly than just whether you get an email or not. Look here for an example of the same email sent with multiple subtle variations based on what they (their computers) thought the recipient would respond to. But let's see some more interesting and colorful examples!

Which Web-Sites Do You Like?
I know a guy who likes XKCD who just blew a neuron!

And here's some more micro-targeting graphs for your viewing pleasure!
Blue Moon is Republican High Turn-Out!? And ... Michelob Ultra!?

Do Those WWE Watchers ... Think It's For Real?

My People, The UFC Fans, They Do Not Go To The Polls :-/


Republicans Don't Internet Date? Family Values, I Guess. But YAY for You Tube!

If Only Obama Had Anyone On MySpace--Maybe He Could Motivate Those Voters!?

What's The Definition Of Redundant? A Bumper-Sticker On a Prius!

Diet 7UP Might Very Well Be The Most Boring Soft Drink Known To Man (And I'm Glad The High Information Republicans Are Going Easy On The Caffeine)

Denny's is Democrat-Skew!? But ... But ... OLD PEOPLE!?!? Cracker Barrel Surprises No One.

Justice Is Clothing For Little Girls. What The Heck!?


Those Guys Watching MTV Take Breaks To Update Their MySpace Page ... Clearly.

What Do I Think?
All things being equal if Romney is not hitting the data-mining as hard as the Democrats that should translate into an advantage for Team Obama. I suspect that there is more going on in Boston than the Slate article gives credit for. The GOP were, it's easy to forget, pioneers in early data-driven campaigning and while they may not be as young / hip as Team Obama portrays itself as I think that 'Stupid Party' jokes aside, it would be an error to conclude they are less intelligent.

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