2008 & 2012: The selling of the progressive product [guest post by Geoff B]
here was a book about the 1968 presidential campaign, “The Selling of the President”. There should be a new one written about the 2008 and especially the 2012 campaigns. Marketing, backed by an intensive research effort which focused on what might be called “the long tail” of the voting age population was put into practice by a huge collection of data about individual voters and data mining it for one purpose. Electing Obama.
More than 4 million people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 did not vote this year. But by applying new voter science, Obama nudged enough replacements in key states — many who were rare or first-time voters — to give him his margin of victory (leveraged even larger by the Electoral College).
The “Analyst Institute”, the research arm.
The AI has been quietly stacked with behavioral scientists, mostly PhDs or PhD candidates from Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale,Princeton, and Dartmouth (with Notre Dame and University of Chicago thrown in for good measure). They coordinate with market researchers for various commercial products. AI materials brag that the Institute supports “a community of 400 data analysts and related professionals in collaborating and sharing their findings through monthly Analyst Group meetings and retreats.”
The progressive cause’s analysts look for “sweet spots in the electorate,” gathering as many as 1,000 points of data on each voter, far more than in most surveys.
The “Catalist” development arm.
Although not made public, the findings are shared with the other special organization that Issenberg explains was created to apply the research. This is Catalist, headed by longtime Democrat operative Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff in the Bill Clinton White House.
Catalist’s website describes its mission: “To provide progressive organizations with the data and services needed to better identify, understand, and communicate with the people they need to persuade and mobilize.”
Their website, www.catalist.us, identifies 237 clients, including more than 50 Members of Congress, Planned Parenthood, Rock the Vote, the Democratic Governors Association, AFL-CIO, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, Emily’s List, Sierra Club, Families USA—basically the entire inner circle of the Left.
Catalist helps its clients to apply the research done by the Analyst Institute.
AI listed its 2009 and 2010 priorities as research that included:
What Are The Predictors Of Persuadability?
Increase The Use Of Impact?Based Communications.
Which Advocacy Tactics Are Most Effective?
How Can We Best Use Social Networking Technology?
How Can We Effectively Engage Surge Voters?
Can We Experimentally, And Quickly, Test The Impact Of Television Ads?
Enhance Skills Of The Progressive Data Community.
According to Issenberg, the funding to develop this research capability came from liberal donors unhappy with the money they “wasted” in 2004 in efforts to defeat George W. Bush by funneling a fortune through 527 groups.
This research and the data that was gathered by not just the AI & CI researchers, not just any and all organizations that support the Democrats, but also data purchased in the private sector that was done for corporate marketing efforts, data mined from Facebook and Twitter, and finding that came from “Dreamcatcher” were combined into useful form to achieve the end of re-electing Obama and holding the Senate in 2012. The system which did this was called “Narwhal”.
On Jan. 22, a young woman in a socially conservative corner of southwestern Ohio received a blast email from Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama. Years earlier, the young woman had registered for updates on Obama’s website, completing a form that asked for her email address and ZIP code. For a while, the emails she received from Obama and his Organizing for America apparatus were appeals to give money and sign petitions, and she responded to one that required that she provide her name.
But Cutter’s note was different. She boasted of a new administration rule that would require insurance plans to fully cover contraception as part of the president’s health care reform law, and encouraged her recipients to see the policy as reason to rally around Obama’s re-election.
It was a message that sat well with the young Ohioan who received it. She was single, liberal, sensitive to medical costs—but she had never told the campaign any of those things, and the one piece of information she had provided (her ZIP code) could easily mark her as the type of traditionalist Midwestern woman who would recoil at efforts to liberalize access to birth control.
Those who have worked with Obama’s data say that it is an email that would have never been sent in 2008. The campaign knew very little about the 13 million people who had registered for online updates, not even their age or gender or party registration. Without the ability to filter its recipients based on those criteria, the campaign stuck to safe topics for email blasts and reserved its sharp-edged messages for individual delivery by direct mail or phone call. In those channels, the campaign could be certain of the political identities of those it was reaching, because the recipients had been profiled based on hundreds of personal characteristics—enough to guarantee that each message was aimed at a receptive audience.
This year, however, as part of a project code-named Narwhal, Obama’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about contraception to send it only to women with whom canvassers have personally discussed reproductive views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Obama’s views on the issue.
Finding that one button to push an individual voter into voting for Obama. Knowing which one works for each individual in your database and constantly expanding that database to encompass more and more of the public. This is the new nano-selling of a President. Marketing him to each voter as exactly what that particular voter wants a President to be, to do.
This requires one unstated thing for the effort to work. The voter targeted must be what is called a “low info” voter. The voter must be one who doesn’t already know much about the campaign so that their knowledge will not override the message the campaign delivers. People scrabbling to survive day to day in a bad economy will tend to not have time to pay attention to politics so Obama has grown more ‘low info” voters for his campaign to cherry pick votes from in 2012. These voters will fly under the radar of the polls since they will likely not be polled and even if they are will be considered as “not likely” voters and so discounted from the conclusions of the pollsters.
There are other things which can be done with this data. Messages could also be sent to dissuade from voting those who are seen not supporting your candidate and undecided about your opponent. This data can also be used after winning election to rev up people to pressure the legislature to sign on to your positions in legislation/negotiations.
This effort seems to make only a few percentage points of difference but that is enough for now. What remains to be seen is what happens if and when reality slams the messaging to the mat. Can perception trump events? The experiment is ongoing.