Election 2008: Obama has the most powerful tool in US politics [Karl]
Bloomberg’s Christopher Stern reports on Barack Obama’s Total Information Awareness:
Almost 2 million people have entered personal information on Obama pages on social-networking Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace and his campaign’s mybarackobama.com, offering home addresses, phone numbers, their views on specific issues and the names of friends. The data have allowed Obama, 46, to raise more than $200 million, fill sports arenas with supporters across the nation and motivate millions more with custom-tailored messages.
“It’s gigantic,” said Laura Quinn, chief executive officer of Catalist, a company that maintains a database of 280 million Americans. The list is as “transformational” as the advent of political advertising, she said.
That is an overstatement.Ã‚Â The RNC began work on a national database of voters in the mid-1990s, with the web-based Voter Vault rolling out in 2002.Ã‚Â Microtargeting –Ã‚Â using “predictive analytics”Ã‚Â and demographic data to reachÃ‚Â small but crucial groups of votersÃ‚Â — emerged in a big way in 2004 andÃ‚Â has beenÃ‚Â credited with providing the Bush re-elect campaignÃ‚Â a crucial edge.Ã‚Â However,Ã‚Â both sides used it:
In 2004, Republican microtargeting in New Mexico found a strain of education-obsessed Hispanic moms who responded positively to mailings and phone calls touting George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Democratic microtargeters discovered what they called Christian Conservative Environmentalists. Find such people (by data-mining the information), craft a message that resonates with their particular bugaboos, contact them directly, and you may get votes that otherwise would never have found their way into your tally.
The GOP/Bush folksÃ‚Â further usedÃ‚Â this type of data-mining to power the “72-Hour Projects” in 2002 and 2004 after research disclosed how much more effective personal contact was than direct mail and phone banks.
The Democrats have been working hard to catch up in this arena.Ã‚Â Last month, I noted these efforts, which paid off for Dems in 2006 — including the startup of Catalist, whose Laura Quinn is quoted above (without Stern noting the company’s partisan pedigree).
Two weeks ago, the New York Times did an eye-opening piece on Catalist, which was created by longtime Democratic fixer HaroldÃ‚Â Ickes with over $11 million in venture capital –Ã‚Â including more thanÃ‚Â a million fromÃ‚Â (who else?)Ã‚Â George Soros.Ã‚Â Some campaign finance watchdogsÃ‚Â question whetherÃ‚Â Catalist is using itsÃ‚Â for-profit status to shield its investors from the disclosure and spending rules for traditional political organizations.Ã‚Â The company does appear to have arisen from the ashes of America Coming Together and the Media Fund, which were found by the Federal Election Commission to have illegally spent $150 million on federal campaign activities without registering as political committees.Ã‚Â As the NYT’s Leslie Wayne reported:
Catalist is actually just one piece in a larger, and interlocking, network of independent liberal organizations that are acting almost as a shadow Democratic National Committee, now that the party itself can no longer accept unlimited large soft money donations. While these independent groups cannot communicate with the Democratic Party on strategy, they provide yet another way of getting the party’s message out, even if not in the words of the party.
Its clients include groups like MoveOn.Org, the N.A.A.C.P., the Sierra Club, Emily’s List, Naral Pro-Choice America and the National Education Association, along with the service employees union and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. All those groups were involved with Americans Coming Together in 2004 and are planning even bigger get-out-the-vote campaigns this year…
Barack Obama’sÃ‚Â online efforts may not be “transformational,” butÃ‚Â build on the Catalist modelÃ‚Â in at least two ways.Ã‚Â First,Ã‚Â getting his supporters to enter personal information directly on mybarackobama.com and related sites gives him more accurate and detailed data from the outset.Ã‚Â Second, the social networking aspects of his efforts build on the lessons of the “72 Hour Projects” and other research showing the effectiveness of personal politicking and peer pressure in get-out-the-vote efforts, creating a greater possibility that Obama — or his customers — may finally be able to drive a Democratic leaning youth vote turnout that does not lag the grown-ups.
I am still a bit skepticalÃ‚Â that the youth vote will catch up after the long slog of primary and general election campaign.Ã‚Â It is possible that in a general election, the youth vote might resemble their elders more thanÃ‚Â some currently think.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â The mightÃ‚Â become disillusioned and apathetic.Ã‚Â
On the other hand, John McCain’s campaign badly trails the Democrats on all gauges of networked activity. Ã‚Â I have noted this is synergistically stupid, given that McCain seems headed for
welfare public financing.Ã‚Â “Change” elections are usuallyÃ‚Â close and the last two presidential elections have been squeakers where targeted voter outreach may have made the difference.Ã‚Â TargetPoint –Ã‚Â so important in the Bush re-elect strategy — worked for Romney during the primaries,Ã‚Â but is widely expected toÃ‚Â hired by McCain in the general election (I note the firm just didÃ‚Â polling for a pro-GOP group in Colorado).Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Nevertheless, one wonders whether McCain and the GOPÃ‚Â are lagging onÃ‚Â this front, relativeÃ‚Â to Obama and Catalist.