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How Computer Data Banks – Not Speeches – Win Elections

One of Governor Romney’s pitches to voters was his background in business, his success in turning situations round. But compared to Obama his campaign management failed at the number crunching level.

Modern elections can be won behind the scenes, by collecting data, analysing, and using numbers – not hunches – to take decisions.

It begins to look as of a big part of President Obama’s re-election was the success of his digital effort. “We’re going to measure every single thing,” said Jim Messina who ran the campaign. They ran the election 66,000 times every single night with computer simulations. Next morning they would look at results then decide where to allocate resources like TV, radio and mail shots.

The campaign measured which groups responded to different messages, some sent out as trial runs. Often just a couple of sentences would be changed in a mailing shot then the results measured and entered onto the data banks. According to an article in Time magazine which had access to the Obama campaign, they knew who would respond to a certain appeal, where they lived, and details like how many Facebook friends they had.

Early on the decision was taken to put all the data from the ‘08 campaign onto one data bank, together with ongoing work. Previously the banks were not speaking to each other. For 2012 the biggest political data bank ever was collected. Then a specialist who had worked for supermarket chains, analysing sales promotion campaigns, was put in charge. The professionalism probably left the Romney camp behind.

When the polls started slipping in October after the first debate the data banks came up with reassurance. They showed that Obama was not losing support, Romney was simply winning back voters who had deserted after the glitches of his September campaign.

The data banks showed that the celebrity most likely to appeal to Californian women aged 40 – 49 was George Clooney. A fund raiser was organised with winners getting the chance to dine with Obama and Clooney. On the East Coast the choice was Sarah Jessica Parker. These choices were not hunches, or based on personal preferences, numbers came up with the answers.

The data banks and number crunching enabled the Obama camp to raise $1BN in funds, target TV ads more effectively and model swing state voters. Analysis showed that the effectiveness of TV spot buying was 14% up on previous campaigns.

According to legend, in the 1960 elections the Kennedy camp bribed the Mob to get the vote out in key states. In 2012 the Obama campaign got more bang for their buck by organising the data banks. Which has to be a step forward for democracy. 

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  1. Jo Oliver

    On November 18, 2012 at 2:48 pm


    There is certainly no denying that Obama had a better ground game and his camp had a better finger on the numbers, at least in analyzing them. Romney’s camp mistakenly put too much faith in the numbers themselves and failed to analyze what was behind the numbers! Assumption is the mother of all f’ups! That said, I disagree with the premise of the title ~ knowing how to interpret, dissect, and use the info behind the numbers plays a large role, but the numbers would be a moot point if you (the candidate) don’t first give people a reason to become a number! Computer data banks aren’t that reason!

  2. septana

    On November 20, 2012 at 1:05 am


    your article is very nice

  3. septana

    On November 20, 2012 at 1:06 am


    your article is very nice

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