They Beat Them at the Door; the New Door. How geeks became the secret weapon in Obama’s second win.

by johndavis, January 5, 2013

It wasn’t the data; it was the geeks who knew how to manage the data that gave Obama an institutional advantage over the Romney team and their $100 million Super PACs led by GOP superstar consultants.

They Beat Them at the Door; the New Door. How geeks became the secret weapon in Obama’s second win.

“They lived in the cellular shadows, effectively immune to traditional get-out-the-vote efforts.”  Time magazine's Michael Sherer, Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected With Young Voters

 Friday, January 4, 2013             Vol. VI, No. 1             3:13 pm

 Living in Cellular Shadows; Immune to Get-Out-The-Vote Efforts

My wife and I have eight adult children, which includes three spouses, ages 24 to 32. They are among the best informed voters in America; university degrees, world travelers, tech savvy.  Yet not one of the eight has cable TV, a home phone, a home radio or subscribes to a newspaper.

All of our children voted last fall, yet they did not receive a single Get-Out-The-Vote call from any campaign, national or state. They were among those who, "lived in the cellular shadows,” wrote Time magazine's Michael Sherer in his story, Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected With Young Voters, effectively immune to traditional get-out-the-vote efforts."

Sherer’s story disclosed for the first time a near disaster for the Obama reelection campaign in the fall of 2012.  “Half the campaign’s targeted swing-state voters under age 29 had no listed phone number."  How are you going to turn out one of your most loyal constituencies if you can’t find their phone numbers?  The answer? Facebook apps.

  •  85% of Obama’s targeted swing-state voters under age 29 with no listed phone number were found via a Facebook Friends app
  • 1 million Obama backers used the app on Facebook, permitting the Chicago HQ analytics geeks to look at their Facebook Friends
  • 600,000 Obama supporters used the Facebook app to persuade 5 million of their Facebook Friends to register, contribute and/or vote
  • Obama team registered 1.8 million new voters door-to-door; 1.1 million online

Chicago-based data analytics geeks gave President Barack Obama his margin of victory by identifying a powerful new means of “door-to-door contact” by friends: Facebook Friends apps on smartphones and tablets. Friends contacting friends. The new door.

 Obama’s Institutional Advantage Over Romney and His Super PACs

Read Time’s story, Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win, and you will discover that Jim Messina, Obama’s Campaign Manager, hired an analytics team five times the size of the 2008 operations team.

The team of dozens of data-mining geeks worked in secret in a remote corner of the HQ in Chicago for 18 months, “creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.”

The Obama megafile allowed the campaign:

  • To predict the types of people who would be persuaded by specific messages
  • To rank their target lists for unique actions in order of persuadability (register; donate)
  • To predict the types of people who would more likely give money online or by mail
  • To predict the types of people who would volunteer, and for what type of work
  • To operate and invest with maximum efficiency
  • To raise a record $1 billion war chest
  • To turn out voters in swing states in record numbers

From the Time story: “We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” said a senior official, describing the computer simulations the campaign ran to figure out Obama’s odds of winning each swing state. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.”

In the 1967 Academy Award winning movie The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, one of the top 100 most memorable movie one-liners was produced.  It was, "Plastics.”

The film was a coming-of-age story about a recent college graduate who was struggling with the pressures of an older, corrupting generation.  “I want to say one word to you. Just one word,” said Mr. McGuire, to Benjamin, the new graduate, “Are you listening? Plastics,” he said, “There is a great future in plastics.”

If I could write the screenplay for a modern-day remake of The Graduate based on the 2012 elections, the dialogue would be: “I want to say one word to you. Just one word,” said Mr. McGuire, “Are you listening? Geeks,” he said, “There is a great future in geeks.”

After reading numerous accounts of how Obama’s Chicago team built an institutional advantage over the Romney team and their $100 million Super PACs led by GOP superstars, I am persuaded that it was the geeks, the data-mining, analytical, app creating geeks, who became the secret weapon in Obama’s second win.

It wasn’t the data; it was the geeks who knew how to manage the data that gave Obama an institutional advantage over the Romney team and their $100 million Super PACs led by GOP superstar consultants.  It wasn’t the mobile devices like smartphones and tablets; it was the geeks who discovered how apps can allow friends to knock on “new doors” of friends.  Digital doors.

Pew Research Center reports in The Demographics of Mobile News, that young people have "largely abandoned the print news product," preferring instead to get their news on smartphones and tablets.  Another Pew study, In Changing News Landscape, Even Television is Vulnerable, concluded that, “Among the youngest Americans – those younger than 25 – substantially more get news digitally than from traditional news sources (60% vs. 43%).

If you want to contact them, to persuade them, to get them to volunteer or contribute to your campaign, to get them to go out and vote, you are going to have to geek up.

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 Thank You for Reading the John Davis Political Report!

John N. Davis, Editor

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The John Davis Political Report was named as one of the “Top 10 North Carolina Political Influencers Award” recipients for 2012 by Campaigns and Elections, a national political journal founded in 1980.  Ten recipients of the “Political Influencers Award” are named for each state.

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