April 29, 2008

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.  The RNC began work on a national database of voters in the mid-1990s, with the web-based Voter Vault rolling out in 2002.  Microtargeting – using “predictive analytics” and demographic data to reach small but crucial groups of voters — emerged in a big way in 2004 and has been credited with providing the Bush re-elect campaign a crucial edge.  However, 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 folks further used 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.  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 Harold Ickes with over $11 million in venture capital – including more than a million from (who else?) George Soros.  Some campaign finance watchdogs question whether Catalist is using its for-profit status to shield its investors from the disclosure and spending rules for traditional political organizations.  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.  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’s online efforts may not be “transformational,” but build on the Catalist model in at least two ways.  First, getting his supporters to enter personal information directly on mybarackobama.com and related sites gives him more accurate and detailed data from the outset.  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 skeptical that the youth vote will catch up after the long slog of primary and general election campaign.  It is possible that in a general election, the youth vote might resemble their elders more than some currently think.  The might become disillusioned and apathetic. 

On the other hand, John McCain’s campaign badly trails the Democrats on all gauges of networked activity.  I have noted this is synergistically stupid, given that McCain seems headed for welfare public financing.  “Change” elections are usually close and the last two presidential elections have been squeakers where targeted voter outreach may have made the difference.  TargetPoint – so important in the Bush re-elect strategy — worked for Romney during the primaries, but is widely expected to hired by McCain in the general election (I note the firm just did polling for a pro-GOP group in Colorado).  Nevertheless, one wonders whether McCain and the GOP are lagging on this front, relative to Obama and Catalist.

Posted by Karl @ 6:00am

Comments (39)

  1. Well, the SCOTUS just did it’s part to get McCain elected. There is no democracy if you need to carry ID.

    Indiana’s law imposes unjustified burdens on people who are old, poor or members of minority groups and less likely to have driver’s licenses or other acceptable forms of identification.

    I weep for our lost freedom.

    This decision is a body blow to what America stands for — equal access to the polls,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York.

    Voter ID laws: women minorities hardest hit. Or something.

  2. Insert an “and” … FOR FREEDOM.

  3. Between the Supremes getting one right yesterday, and Excitable Andy going apeshit over Wright, it was a pretty good Monday.

  4. Karl:

    Like you, I don’t see the “Myspace Electorate” enduring until November. Historically, this just doesn’t happen. Also, there’s a long summer vacation coming up during which college students are separated from their herd, and from their indoctrinaire professors, that surely support them in their zeal.

    So, I guess the question is–Can the Democrats recharge these “yutes” in September?

  5. I guess the dead don’t drive.

  6. Barack Obama’s grassroots funding illustrates a paradigm not seen in money raising since war bonds were sold.

    Magic data-mining software my ass. His populist appeal was financially harnessed organically. They love him. Simple.

  7. Most powerful tool?


  8. Frankly, I find it surprising that any Republican can win on a national level. Once the Dems figure things out, which they have shown no propensity to do, they could be unbeatable. Unless Hillary and Baracky rip the party to shreds.

  9. You mean once they stop demonstrating a deep affinity for compulsive liars, JD?

  10. Yeah, Dan, that doesn’t help. The shameless pandering and socialist desires tend to hold them back a bit too.

  11. I figured with all of the mushroom bruises that the Dark Lord Karl Rove has given the Left, he would be recognized as having the most powerful tool in all of politics.

  12. Dan, I think you’re confusing Barack Obama with Mungo Jerry. I do it all the time, no big deal.

  13. Pingback: Barack Obama News » Blog Archive » Election 2008: Obama has the most powerful tool in US politics [Karl]

  14. thor,

    You’re missing the point. Obviously, people are signing up at MBO organically, largely based on Obamamania. That builds a database that is more accurate and thus will produce better results when it is mined for insights about those not in the base. Moreover, people signed up for BO, but he can give or sell that info — mined and unmined — to like-minded people and groups.

  15. Karl, I’m not missing your point, rather, just not responding generically to your point, which, I must say, is a very good point, which I’ve tried to discuss without success with others here.

    Data mining is a an interesting topic and I’m glad you brought it up. And it’s very true that the future value data mining will add to Barack’s donor list, but to who or whom?

    Back in 2000 John McCain’s campaign was the first to see eye-popping internet donation totals. There was a explicit if not implied message on McCain’s web site that stated information given would remain confidential. There was some articles written about the tug of war over that list in the years that passed. McCain actually, at first, refused to hand over his list to the RNC, who assumed they would be privy to it. My name was eventually sold to the RNC, and so.

    This is but one of the reasons Barack Obama can bank on the Dem nomination if he carries a pledge lead into the convention. If the RNC desperately wanted McCain’s list, think how badly the DNC must want Obama’s list, which Obama does not have to share unless he feels inclined to. Monetize the value. If that list raises over $300-million in the primaries today ( mostly from small donors, first-time donors and young people who actually vote and donate, the most treasured names in the list world) what is its worth over the next 20 years to the DNC?

    There are few golden eggs and guaranteed meal tickets in politics. Obama’s donor list is the closest thing to it I’ve ever seen in modern day politics. And don’t think these super delegates don’t understand Obama’s shiny eggs. If they don’t, Howard Dean will explain it to them. That list of names is the future of the Democratic Party, and it comes indexed with cell phone numbers.

  16. And yes, my name is on Obama’s donor list.

  17. “Obama Raises Titanic – WITH HIS MIND!!”

  18. Moreover, people signed up for BO, but he can give or sell that info — mined and unmined — to like-minded people and groups.

    Like when John Kerry gave Obama his list.

  19. Obama’s gift shop is full of stuffed monkeys, he don’t need no Kerry assmonkeys.

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  21. datamining? Datamining! Baracky is spying on innocent Americans!!!11eleventy

  22. I thought Rev. Wright was the biggest tool in the Obama shed.

  23. thor:

    And it’s very true that the future value data mining will add to Barack’s donor list, but to who or whom?

    Yes, which is why I thought you initial comment might be making a more contrarian point, i.e., that to the extent Obama’s list is built around his personal appeal, Dem candidates are — in the right cases — going to vastly prefer access to the list in conjunction with a BO endorsement.

  24. Someone left the Rev out in the rain.

  25. JD,

    There are Lefties who are concerned about the data-mining. Hobgoblin of small minds and all that.

  26. Pablo,

    Is his icing green?

  27. Comment by Karl on 4/29 @ 8:52 am #

    Yes, which is why I thought you initial comment might be making a more contrarian point, i.e., that to the extent Obama’s list is built around his personal appeal, Dem candidates are — in the right cases — going to vastly prefer access to the list in conjunction with a BO endorsement.

    It’s why Obama flashes his toothy smile in the face of Hillary. On her list are names the DNC already has. To cries that Obama’s an empty suit my hand grasps an air penis and twiggles. He’s anything but stupid and more comfortable in his half-black skin than 99% of the politicians out there. He’s no messiah, more like a political Lion roaming the Serengeti. The fucker is good.

  28. I dunno if that’s icing flowing down or his heart melting, Karl.

  29. Yeah, “the fucker (Obama) is good”…if you like racist neo-Marxist presidential candidates. Hammer Boy may; me, not so much…

  30. The fact that he is this far into the nomination process alone is proof enough that he is good – a grasp of the obvious right there. No one has argued that he isn’t good at politicking. The fact that his team has built upon the efforts of others at using the internet to contact voters and get recent focused information acknowledges that each election cycle builds on the one before it, and the professional fundraiser stay as up-to-date as they can. Again, rather obvious.

    But none of that acknowledgement of hard work and political skills takes away from the research into the question who is this candidate? One who is new to the national scene and about whom little is known? The nuts and bolts will be covered in bits and pieces over the next few months and then analyzed deeply after November. Right now getting to know the man using whatever measuring devices are available is where we are at. Not what he wants us to knwo – the carefully tailored and airbrushed image found in a prepared speech or a press release, but the actual man. And that is done through looking at his associates, what he has done over the years, what he said before he so obviously began campaigning for the presidency. And the image being revealed is very much at odds with the official image, it has some pretty bad areas – corrupt donors, anti-american terrorists, virulent racists and anti-semites.

    And you, thor, are upset if anyone starts looking in there, starts looking behind the hype to see the man. You get so upset that all you do is declare everyone else wrong, you right, then dash off insults. What’s the matter? Did you get caught by the hype and buy a pig in a poke and now you’re embarrassed to admit that you, with your mighty brain, were taken in so you insult anyone who might reveal so much that even you can’t deny it?

    When you are actually willing to discuss things here, you will find plenty of people to have discussions with. If you want to trade insults, well – you’ll find a lot of people here who can do that too. Your choice.

  31. I don’t visit PW in search of a temperamental yet lasting love affair, nor to trade ice cream cones.

    I come to suck at the bitter nipple of the snark boob. You wrong person, you.

    Dan’s got teat. Jeff’s got teat. Karl’s a growing boob. Cranky, Darleen, I’m OK there too.

  32. The you probably are a stalker.
    Bye, thor. No need to read anything you write.

  33. Sometimes when I look up I see clouds that look like me and I ask myself, “why are clouds that look like me stalking me?”

    I read what you wrote. Good points, some. There’s no crime in disagreement. Now give me a head butt.

  34. If Catalist is a ‘for-profit’ enterprise I guess they’re out there pitching all those Republican candidates too…

  35. Pingback: Dems 2008: Is Obama slipping with the youth vote? [Karl]

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  39. I don\’t normally leave comments… but I really enjoyed your post! I will be leaving a link back here in my blogroll! Thanks!