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Obama, Romney, and GOP Technology: A Chilling Analysis

by: edfactor

Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 02:20:49 AM EST


(This got lost in all the Chair, and Scott Brown reporting.  It is really worth a read. Please take a good long look. - promoted by Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno)

UPDATE: I added several new things in two comments.

/ *

This post is about technology, but is written for a non-technical audience.

You may think you know what happened with the technology of the Obama and Romney campaigns because of what you read about Orca. You don't know. This article is incredibly long. It will be worth it, and you will never look at technology and politics in the same way. If someone knows where to post or put this so that the RNC sees it, please do so. I am designating this content under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. Distribute freely with attribution.

* /

"We must develop the best technology with the help of the best minds." - GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, in a speech in January 2013, after being re-elected.

Yes, Mr. Priebus, we must, because in 2012, Team Obama kicked our asses in ways that you don't understand. The Democrats have created a whole ecosystem of technology and people that we don't have. It will be nearly impossible to catch up. This article will explain why, and offer some advice. But you're going to have to be bold. Or we are going to lose in 2016.

This article will attempt to answer the following questions:

- What role did technology play in the 2012 presidential election?
- How did Obama and Romney spend their money?
- What were the differences in their approaches?
- How did their spending and approaches affect what they were able to do?
- How far ahead are the Democrats in technology?
- Will this technology trickle down?

Lessons Learned

- What are the big lessons?
- Can Republicans catch up?

(Read more...)

edfactor :: Obama, Romney, and GOP Technology: A Chilling Analysis
BACKGROUND AND SOURCE MATERIAL

This article is based on many public sources and several private ones with strong connections to the people who have built campaign technology for President Obama over the past several years. Fortunately, most of the useful information is public, thanks to Engage, TechPresident and Ars Technica. Links to all their great work is at the bottom of this article. (I don't know a single technology person in the Romney campaign and they have revealed little about their operations. But I can tell much of what happened by the public information and the spending reports. I also, as a Romney supporter, used a lot of their public-facing tools.)

INTRODUCTION: BACK TO 2008

I remember the 2008 campaign between then-Senators Obama and John McCain. In my professional world, we were all buzzing about what technologies would be used, as this appeared to be the first big election where Internet technology would finally play a major role. I had a few friends who were working (though Blue State Digital) for Senator Obama. I knew no one who worked for Senator McCain.

At the time, web technology was aimed at making a better website, offer some organizing tools, do some analytics, and spreading the word though email and social media channels. There was talk about radical changes to GOTV, but that was a ways off. It was still the "digital" side of the campaign, and new technology didn't flow through the entire campaign operation at that time.

The first thing I noticed was a difference in technology and resources. First, the McCain campaign only had a small number of people on the digital side (perhaps a dozen). The Obama campaign had many more people involved (close to 100). That's the part people remember. But there was another thing that only we technology folks would notice: different kinds of software. McCain's main website and tools were built on a kind of Microsoft technology that you would see from a medium-sized bank. Obama's tools were simple but flexible "open source" components that were part of a worldwide network of interesting and innovative products.

After the 2008 election, Republicans saw that they were quite behind the Democrats in social media and a few other areas. They decided that we would have to do better next time. But four years later, we found that we were even further behind. That's right, a brilliant graduate of Harvard Business School with a billion dollars ended up further behind his opponent, who spent less than half the amount of money he did, but fielded an operation four times as large.

So how the hell did this happen? You're going to find out.

DIGRESSION: OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

There is one big, new tech concept that you must understand that is at the very heart of the Internet software development world. Almost all of the basic components that startups use are free. Yes, after decades of dominance by IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and many others, we are now in a world where free, community-based software is were all the innovation and action is at. I'm serious. For example: almost all of the software components that power Facebook worldwide is free. That doesn't mean you will know how to use it. The metaphor is this: I can walk you in the front door of Home Depot and say, "Take anything you want. You can build a beautiful mansion with what's in here." Could you build a mansion? Probably not. But the materials won't cost you a thing. That's what Internet software is like now. Most of the best stuff costs nothing. You just have to know how to use it. Unfortunately, almost all of the best people who can build those mansions of software are not Republicans. And that's a huge problem. (More on that later.)


WHAT ROLE DID TECH PLAY?

Most people think of technology as a website. Perhaps a collaboration platform, like some offices use to post events and share documents. But that is not accurate anymore. I coined the following phrase months ago:

"We are living in an information technology revolution and politics is the ultimate information war."

This time, in 2012, Team Obama took technology to everything it did: communication, door-knocking, organizing, voter targeting and preferences, polling, advertising, fundraising, and a whole new level of GOTV. There would be a giant backbone of voter data that would flow through every activity and it would be so knowledgable and so good at predicting what to do, that the wisdom of political consultants would be irrelevant. Here's a great quote from someone at TechPresident who interviewed the staff:

"The core of the campaign was not flashy or even particularly innovative except in the willingness of senior staff to listen to numbers people rather than to consultants acting on old-fashioned political intuition."

That's right: this time, it would be hard numbers, not political strategists, that would dictate everything they would do. Republicans heard about this approach months ahead of time and laughed at it. WSJ Columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan was one of the ones who didn't get it until after the election, and then wrote, regretfully:

"I referred to a recent hiring notice from the Obama 2012 campaign. It read like politics as done by Martians:

The 'Analytics Department' is looking for 'predictive Modeling/Data Mining' specialists to join the campaign's 'multi-disciplinary team of statisticians,' which will use 'predictive modeling' to anticipate the behavior of the electorate. 'We will analyze millions of interactions a day, learning from terabytes of historical data, running thousands of experiments, to inform campaign strategy and critical decisions.'

This struck me as "high tech and bloodless." I didn't quite say it, but it all struck me as inhuman, unlike any politics I'd ever seen.It was unlike any politics I'd ever seen. And it won the 2012 campaign. Those "Martians" were reinventing how national campaigns are done. They didn't just write a new political chapter with their Internet outreach, vote-tracking data-mining and voter engagement, especially in the battleground states. They wrote a whole new book. And it was a masterpiece. " [1]


(But when I saw that hiring notice, I said, "Oh my God - are they really going to apply that stuff to campaigns now?" My mind swirled.)

Here's another great quote from that TechPresident article:

"This campaign had enough data to be able to make differentiated strategy decisions at small geographic levels," one campaign staffer told techPresident. "The unsung heroes were all the team leaders and volunteers who were entering data nightly, and then strategizing with the data coming back from HQ." [2]

One more item for all those people who keep talking about the value of door-knocking over technology: the Obama and Romney people built technology so that the door-knockers would have info on their phones right before they knocked, and the ability to add data from the door visit into the system in front of that house. Quote from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina: "I mean, the best data for us was things that we collected at the doors."

Oh - and social media.... if you think Facebook is just about sharing, you won't believe the things the Obama people figured out how to do. Let's start with just sharing. They didn't just figure out who to share stuff with, as both campaigns knew how to do. They were looking at your friends, too, which matters as they figured out that 98% of all Facebook users know someone who likes President Obama.

"The prototype used a script to check a given supporter's Facebook friends list against what the campaign knew about those friends. The campaign could use the merged data to create arbitrary scores that indicated which of a user's Facebook friends the campaign would like to present with a given piece of content." [3]

It gets more advanced than that:

"Applying the same principles to get out the vote, Obama for America asked its supporters who had been signed up for the OfA Facebook application to pick potential voters from among their friends in swing states and urge them to get to the ballot box or register to vote. In the final days before the election and on election day, the application flooded its users with notifications asking them to reach out on the campaign's behalf. Officials told Time's Michael Scherer that a staggering 20 percent of people asked by their friends to register, vote or take another activity went ahead and did it." [3]

For the youth vote, they realized that 85% of all young voters were friends with someone already in their Facebook database. All they had to do was use their data to figure out which friends of friends were in which states, and then use targeted sharing to get content to them.[4]

We don't have the numbers, but I have heard that thousands of people were gotten to the polls in this way in swing states. When you look at the margin of victory, you being to say, "Whoa....did Facebook technology hand any of the states to Obama?" I don't know.

I could go on and on, but I hope you see that this was a level of technology that campaigns had never seen before. (And I didn't even get to their amazing email and fundraising stuff. For example, while Romney had 2-3 million people on their email list, Obama had 16 million. And what percentage of Obama's 16 million got to the polls to vote? 99% !!! So for those of you who think direct mail is irreplaceable, think again.)

HOW DID OBAMA AND ROMNEY SPEND THEIR MONEY?

As the old saying goes, if you watch how people spend their money, you see their priorities.

Ars Technica did a complete breakdown of the spending of both campaigns. (See links 5+6 below)  But I will try to sum up the data. Note that it isn't easy to clearly say what is and is not technology, but the exact numbers are not important in this analysis.

Romney: $23.6 million (at least - not counting some data management stuff that was expensive.)

They spent money to have other people build and handle stuff, keeping only a few things and a few employees in-house. Everything was software as a service. According to reports, he paid his tech people a lot less than Obama did. [5]

Obama: $11.3 million

Obama spent $9.3 million on technology and services. $2 million on internal tech payroll - this is a major and crucial difference from Romney. They paid their people more, though most took a pay cut from their regular software jobs to join the campaign. Obama spent $1.4 million on hosting they managed themselves (Amazon Web Services) - compared to Romney's $21,000. (But Romney probably paid MindShift - a BestBuy company, several hundred thousand dollars for them to host stuff for them.) [6]

WHAT WERE OTHER DIFFERENCES IN THEIR APPROACHES?

Well, for one, Obama's people decided to hire a fantastic CEO from a startup named Threadless to be their Chief Technology Officer. Harper Reed is one weird, but super-smart guy. Here is his picture: (this is one of the less-scary ones of him)

Can you picture the Romney people hiring someone like him to manage their technology? I didn't think so.

Other than Reed, the biggest difference was that Romney outsourced his problems for other firms to handle. Obama hired people to build solutions internally. But there were many others. Romney hired firms run by people he had previous ties with. As Ars Technica put it, he hired his friends. [5] When it came to in-house technologists, Obama hired senior people and paid them more. Romney hired more junior people and paid them less.

Obama's in-house organization was huge! He had 200 digital people - website people, social media, etc. He had 50 more developers and 50 more analytics people. This crew made up about 1/3 of all Obama campaign staff! Romney had a small fraction of that.

Obama's people used open source tools and proven designs. "Key in maximizing the value of the Obama campaign's IT spending was its use of open source tools and open architectures. Linux-particularly Ubuntu-was used as the server operating system of choice." [6]

Obama's team changed technologies a lot; they customized; they innovated. They did a lot with cloud computing, while Romney's people used more traditional hosting in Boston and Waltham.

Obama's team did practice drills for major IT meltdowns so they would be prepared. They had a complete copy of their entire infrastructure moved to the West Coast when Hurricane Sandy hit. (This is an incredible feat.)

Obama set up a field office in SF for tech help got 100 volunteers and many did serious work and built real applications.

Obama's team opened up to outside people and the press about what it was doing, both before, and especially after the election.

Obama's people, before they started the campaign tech effort, toured Silicon Valley startups to find out best practices for the things they knew they needed to do. They wanted to be innovative, but they didn't want to do something that was not already working elsewhere.

Obama's people decided that instead of trying to combine third-party software services that were not designed to work together, that they would build their own giant data integration tool that would combine everything every part of the campaign knew about every voter, donor, and volunteer into one giant system that all applications could tie into. There is no way to overstate how powerful this was. Every email, every phone call, every web advertisement, every website visit, every Facebook connection, and every door knocker would know everything about everyone and could do individual personalization on the spot. This was what "Project Narwhal" was. It is the holy grail of all political activity. It improved efficiency across the entire country and it probably, over time, won the election for Obama. I don't say that carelessly. (Now you understand what 50 analytics guys can do full-time when they have every piece of data about everybody in America, eh?)

HOW DID SPENDING AND APPROACH AFFECT EXECUTION?

Obama's people, who were from the internet startup world, hired heavily from their social networks and brought in people from America's most innovative firms. They brought those ideas and hard-won experience into the campaign. They didn't need to be taught how to create architecture for rapid growth. They knew already.

In terms of reliability, Obama's infrastructure suffered 30 minutes of downtime for the entire campaign. And zero on election day. Romney's people had some outages, and terrible problems on Election Day with GOTV.

By building a unified set of data services, Obama's people were able to constantly and easily add new things to the campaign without worrying about the data layer as Romney's people did. Every new application therefore took much less time than it did for Romney.

Obama's people focused on using simple components that were easy to understand. This, along with their data services, allowed them to create the San Francisco field office and get people contributing and writing real applications to help the campaign. There was no way Romney could have easily added outside help, even if they wanted to.

HOW FAR AHEAD ARE THE DEMOCRATS IN TECHNOLOGY?

If we are talking about the tech of the parties in general, that's hard to say. My guess is that the Democratic Party is, in general, a couple of years ahead, based on things I have read. However, in terms of judging the campaign technology of Romney and Obama, I think that the Obama people are at least three years ahead. Probably four.

But talking about the number of years doesn't tell the whole story. The Democrats already have an entire ecosystem of political technology going on. It's everything from all of Blue State Digital's stuff to NGP VAN to ActBlue to a lot more. Some of the stuff they have built, such as NationBuilder, is available to all. Most is not.

They have an ethos of using technology to enable individual people to stand up to big corporations and the wealthy. It motivates them to keep moving forward and building new things.

The other big issue is people. Most of the best technology people in America are either Democrats or non-Republicans. The numbers are startling. Nate Silver covered this issue in an article named, "In Silicon Valley, Technology Talent Gap Threatens GOP Campaigns." [7] The donation chart below tells the story:

But I knew this without even seeing those numbers. Not all my friends in the tech elite are Democrats. But almost none are Republicans. In this state, I know of only one other top technology guy who is Republican - even though I am sure there are some more. (There are all kinds of ordinary programmers of all political parties. But those people are not going to build Narwhal.)

The reality is that even though the great software developers of America care about the economy and freedom and innovation and don't like a lot of government regulation, the GOP brand is just too toxic. I try to talk them out of their impressions. But they just say, "Ed, they are not like you." (They being the people on TV and in the news.) Also, the high-tech world is a diverse and tolerant culture. Diversity and tolerance are not what we Republicans are known for. If we want to reach out to the technology innovators, we are going to have to change our image and also address some of their policy concerns. (More below on that.)

WILL OBAMA'S TECHNOLOGY TRICKLE DOWN?

That's the big question. Much has been written about whether Obama's campaign will give all they built to the open source community, where they got so many of the components they used to begin with.

The answer right now seems to be no. However, through their social networks, the ideas and architecture are already spreading. Also, they claimed they used components already in use at the well-known startups, and we (computer geeks) already know what those shops are using. (Take Narwhal for instance. I think I have some idea what it would look like. But no, I cannot go build that for you.)

I imagine that some of these techniques and tools will be shared with the major Democratic players (ActBlue and Blue State Digital) and also that the successor organization to OFA will get some components as well. I don't think state parties will get anything directly, but they may get some of this functionality through the big vendors' state-level products. For instance, Obama's team did a lot with fundraising (though I didn't talk about it) and I wouldn't be surprised if that got transferred to ActBlue, and the Massachusetts Democrats, who don't use ActBlue now for local races, can start using that anytime. (They use it for PACs and statewide races at the moment.)

WHAT LESSONS CAN WE LEARN?

There are so many things we can learn from all this.

- Technology is no longer an add-on to a campaign. It drives all activities in a campaign.

- Romney's people didn't pay attention to the lessons of the past (2008), when Obama's people struggled with GOTV technology and lots of data issues. (Obama's people were very surprised at this, as these lessons were public.) We must keep up with these things. We must study what Obama's people did in 2012 in great detail. (I have included all good public information at the bottom of this article.)

- Outsourcing everything means you lose control and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. We need to hire technology guys into party operations and large campaigns and pay them well.

- We need to build things in iterations, testing all along the way, using simple building blocks. No more building something big for a long while and then releasing it. Too risky.

- We need to keep up with what the startups are doing in technology and translate those things into political uses.

- We need to get involved with the online communities that are out there that share innovation, such as Github - used heavily by Obama's team and not Romney's. We also must get a feel for how these places operate so we can build our own Republican communities of technology.

- We need to stop using so much commercial software and use a lot more free, open source software.

- We need to embrace the new world of analytics and social science research in voter preferences and targeting. We need to cultivate a network of people who have these skills.

- We need to discuss technology out in the open. Obama's people let a lot of what they were doing out into the community so they could get feedback and help.

CAN WE REPUBLICANS CATCH UP?

The short answer is no. Getting to yes would be a long and hard road. Some of that journey actually has nothing to do with technology. Here is my prescription for Chairman Priebus:

- Begin building the infrastructure for the 2016 GOP Presidential Nominee now. Start by commissioning some people to create a Republican version of Narwhal.

- Elevate technologists to the most valuable of all Republican activists. Create nationwide programs to gather them together, share best practices, and produce components. Foster technology projects across state Republican parties. Invite in all kinds of groups on the right, including Ron Paul's supporters and the Tea Party. Nothing unites people like technology projects.

- Create a nationwide repository for voter data tools that can link to and work with the data from GOP Data Center (the successor to Voter Vault).

- Start supporting the voter information file from NationBuilder. I know that seems crazy. But the party should have a community of people who use that data and build apps on it. I predict that by 2014, the data and applications in there will be far more valuable than anything in GOP Data Center.

-  Technologists have policy needs that neither party is serving. If we had a platform that included them, they would have a strong reason to support the party. What are these desires? Copyright and patent reform, an open web (build on what Darrell Issa is doing), prevent things like SOPA and PIPA, and increase the amount of high-tech visas. These things - plus California's new high taxes - will help change the perception of Republicans.

- Start to offer technology training to activists who want to learn computer programming. Do what Code for America does. (They are a non-profit that teaches people to code and then loans them to cities to build applications for better government.) Find people, train them with great free resources like Code Academy, do some in-person training and programming contests, and then put them to work on great projects. There are regular computer programmers who have boring jobs who would love to work on cool projects with the cool stuff that they know is used at Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, and Google. We should give them some opportunities.

Well, that is all I have to say about this for now. I didn't even cover the whole story or lots of other things they built. But I think this is enough for my fellow Republicans to start taking technology much more seriously.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

References

1. Noonan: "About those 2012 Political Predictions" Link here.

2. TechPresident: "The Obama Campaign's Legacy: Listen, Experiment, and Analyze Everything" Link here: http://techpresident.com/news/...

3. TechPresident: "How Obama for America Made Its Facebook Friends into Effective Advocates" Link here: http://techpresident.com/news/...

4. Inside the Cave: The most comprehensive look at the Obama campaigns technology is an astounding 93-page slide presentation from Engage Research, available for download here: http://www.engagedc.com/inside...

5. Ars Technica: "Romney campaign got its IT from Best Buy, Staples, and Friends" Link here: http://arstechnica.com/informa...

This is a great breakdown of all the spending that Romney's campaign did on technology. It shows what decisions were made - like buying stuff from friends instead of best-of-breed.

6. Ars Technica: "How Team Obama's Tech Efficiency Left Romney IT in the Dust." Link here : http://arstechnica.com/informa...

This is the spending breakdown for Obama.

7. New York Times (Nate Silver) "In Silicon Valley, Technology Talent Gap Threatens GOP Campaigns" Link here: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.n...

This article makes the case that if almost every top techie is a Democrat, then we are not going to be able to compete in a tech-driven political world.

OTHER GREAT RESOURCES

Slate "Obama's White Whale" - Feb. 15, 2012 Link is: http://www.slate.com/articles/...

This article is about the building of Project Narwhal - a unified database of voters, volunteers, and donors for every application (email, advertising, social media and more) to share everything about everyone. It was astonishing in scope.

Ars Technica "Inside Team Romney's Whale of an IT meltdown" Link here: http://arstechnica.com/informa...

This article is about the failure of Orca - the Romney campaign's GOTV platform, that was supposed to be a competitor to some of what Narwhal was doing. This meltdown is the party of the story most people know about already.

Giga-Om: "How Mobile and IT Mismanagement Failed Mitt Romney " Link here: http://gigaom.com/2012/11/10/h...

This article has an awesome screenshot of the Orca mobile app.

Ars Technica "Built to win: Deep inside Obama's campaign tech" Link is: http://arstechnica.com/informa...

This is a wonderful article with a great overview of the technologies the Obama people used, especially in how Narwhal and Dashboard were built.

Ars Technica: "Which Consultants Built Romney's Project Orca? None of them" Link here: http://arstechnica.com/informa...

This article reveals that in-house people built Orca, not outside consultants.

Ars Technica: "Orca was no fail-whale..." Link is: http://arstechnica.com/informa...

Here, Romney digital director Moffett says that Orca wasn't that big a failure and admits his company didn't have the talent to build it and that he didn't see the orca code until election day.

Huffington Post: "What's next for Obama's technology?" Link here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

This is about the issue of what is done with this infrastructure and if it should be given to other Democratic groups.

TechPresident "Democratic Politics and the Innovator's Dilemna." Link here: http://techpresident.com/news/...

This is about the edge the Democrats have developed in technology and the issues involved in managing it and protecting it.

Tags: (All Tags)
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Rob is right (0.00 / 0)
There is a better tech culture among the Ron Paul people than in the party as a whole. Even the Tea Party was born into a digital world and has better habits. So yes, let's all work together there.

I need another hour before posting the Voter Data mgmt stuff here next. Then I will finish my SC report on a lot of things and then post the roadmap here. Much to do!!


Libertarians and the Republicans (0.00 / 0)
There is a constant undercurrent in the Republican Party to the effect that libertarians are not welcome. I got so sick of it last election that I voted Johnson/Gray. If they don't want my vote they are not going to get it. And I will do my best to take as many as I can with me.

BTW I technical write for ECN Magazine if you want to look me up. I do politics at "Classical Values".

My biggest peeve? We have two Progressive Parties. They are united by "Government should...." they only differ in what "...." should be. The tell? Neither Party repeals the work of the other. Well very rarely.

What will kill the Republicans in '14 and '16? The ending of Prohibition. I tell my Republican friends that and they get immediately stupider than usual. I see another 1932 in their future. I wrote a piece on that for American Thinker. Look it up. I was about 2 or 4 years ahead of the curve. But it is unmistakable at this point.  


[ Parent ]
Inside the Cave - A Must Read (5.00 / 1)
If you have not yet read "Inside the Cave - An Indepth Look at the Digital, Technology, and Analytical Operations of Obama for America" by Engage DC, I highly recommend that you do as soon as you can.  It's a great presentation on how OFA kicked the Romney Team's. collective behind while running a technology and analytical operation that is, in a word, stunning, for its depth of information collection and analysis.

If we don't learn from the OFA efforts and move, no leap, our technology and analytical efforts forward we will face another uphill climb in 2014 and 2016.

The link to the presentation is http://pjmedia.com/tatler/file...


Something doesn't add up ... (0.00 / 0)
You say Obama spent about 12 million on 300 IT staffers ...
over a 9 month campaign (yes he ran his campaign for longer than Romney did)

that translates to an avergae of $4,444 per month per person ...  

I'm sorry but that is simply BS on steroids ...  no way it was that low per person ... no way ...

I would point out that all of this wonderful technology got Obama 8 million LESS votes than in 2008 ...

not to apply correlation and casuation but I'd look alittle deeper before deciding that technology won this for Obama ...


You'd be suprised.. (0.00 / 0)
What a IT guy will do for unlimited Doritos, Mountain Dew, and a cause he believes in.

Seriously though.  It's easy to make fun of the Messiah complex, but very smart people felt, for some reason, that they had a very big stake in their candidate and worked their tail off for him.

going to be interesting to see how 2016 shapes up on the other side.  And  what effect a Dem candidate that can't cut the same sort of loyalty might have on their operations.

Meanwhile, we need to start to turn this thing around now.  Obama built off Dean.  We can build of Romney, but it's going to take a lot of rethinking and changed assumptions.


[ Parent ]
Also (0.00 / 0)
Final tally: Obama only lost around 3.6 million in the end.  Romney actually outperformed McCain too btw, but only by about a million votes.

Takes forever to certify those damn ballots...


[ Parent ]
100% SPOT ON (5.00 / 1)
I'm an illustrator and art director in California...and, yes, a Republican. Everything you talk about here are issues I could detect but not quantify. I got into activism after the 2008 campaign out of sheer frustration with the sloppy, dated branding and clunky technology used. Of course, I come from a more logo/branding/marketing angle, but its all part of the same dillema. And establishment GOP have stood in my way every single step of the way.

The GOP is overly intellectual about principles that it has lost all sight of HOW to get to real people.

Sadly, I don't think our chairman has the vision or humility to do what you've outlined...but I pray with all my heart that he does.


Hiring Technology Guys (0.00 / 0)
We need to hire technology guys into party operations and large campaigns and pay them well.

They tend to be libertarian. Even in defense/aerospace. The Republican Party would just as soon purge the libertarians from the Party. Too many pot smokers among them is the unstated but constant refrain.  


Dead Right Ed (0.00 / 0)
Awesome post!  Keep them coming!

Adding a few things.... (0.00 / 0)
I have had some time to think about this post, and I have gotten lots of reactions from all kinds of places. (I didn't know stuff here could get around like that.) I wanted to add a few more things:

- The fact that the Romney people didn't try to compete with Narwhal is a total shock to me. I knew what Narwhal was several months ahead of time. There was even a whole article about Narwhal and what it did in the Slate article on Feb. 12! (listed in my references). How the hell did the Romney people not see that and realize they needed to do that too? Did they? (Perhaps we didn't know.) Now Orca's eat Narwhals, so my guess is that they knew at some point. But Orca was a GOTV thing and Narwhal was for the entire campaign and of much greater scope. Why didn't the Romney people get it?

- I didn't mention in this post that the campaign in the middle wanted to start the Orca GOTV tool sooner, but their problem was that their outsourced tech people didn't have the skills to do it. Their internal folks didn't really have the chops either, but they worked on it a long time, and couldn't get the job done. This is a perfect example of why you need expertise in-house.

- I didn't emphasize enough that Mitt Romney really looked at technology as a non-differentiated asset and chose his friends and supporters to provide it. Now, normally you'd say, "Politicians use the people that the last candidate did or the party did, as the relationships were there." But not here - and that says a lot. Some of the big players he used, as far as I know, didn't really have any campaign experience at all. This means that his personal connections even trumped what other big Republican campaigns used. I think that was a terrible mistake.

- I didn't cover the fundraising at all. Obama's people really broke new ground on connecting messaging to donations. Yes, the Romney people did some of this, but Obama's people took it to a whole other level, and importantly, figured out how to make all the small donation drives work. No one would ever have thought that asking people to give $3 all the time would help, for instance. Another thing was that the Obama people managed, by the end, to have most of their fundraising in-house, rather than by external people, saving millions of dollars.

- I didn't emphasize enough in the initial piece how critical it was to tie the youth vote to Facebook technology. They had that separated out from other kinds of outreach and they really maximized youth involvement and messaging and especially GOTV with that group. Romney's people on Facebook were four years behind.


Awesome analysis (0.00 / 0)
and really crucial to the future of the party. Also, all your reviews of local candidates' and orgs' websites and use of social media, etc. have been a treasure trove, and at the very least, you should be on retainer with the MassGOP.

I do a question, not directly related but still worth asking, I think - throughout the Romney campaign I got bombarded with eblasts from a variety of accounts ostensibly from campaign staff, promoting things like buying merchandise (T shirts, hats, mugs, etc.) with Romney's logo, or buying bumper stickers!, or to give a low-dollar donation to enter for a chance to win lunch with Mitt or Ann - what's the benefit of that? I know they wanted to increase their donor base, but do those solicitations really work?

To me, the effect was that it cheapened the campaign into something of a caricature of itself, got really gimmicky, and made me become somewhat disengaged from it. Is this just a necessary part of the process that I have to get used to going forward for all presidential level campaigns? Did OFA do this same thing? Yes, I know I could have just unsubscribed, and I'm sure many people did - which has the opposite effect of that intended, I assume?

But I'm wondering if anyone knows of any analysis that has been done (and published), on this aspect of the campaign's internet-based outreach. Perhaps they found, contrary to my experience, that it increased the donor base and proved wildly successful? I would sincerely love to know, either way.  

Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood. - H. L. Mencken


[ Parent ]
Yes and yes (0.00 / 0)
First, I have returned to the state committee tech sub committee, as I have more time now. There is a lot they can do to build infrastructure. Their job is different than a presidential campaign. They need to roll out basic, proven tools to manage their own data and run small campaigns all over the state. They don't need to innovate at all, with a few exceptions.

The Romney people did quite a lot of things - don't let me leave you with the impression they didn't take this stuff seriously. They did - look at all that money. Wow.  Here's what I might say: they bought everything on the store shelves. Analytics? Absolutely. They knew that if you bought a bumper sticker that you would probably donate $25 next month. The stuff you mentioned is well-understood, yet I don't know of public research.

They, like Obama, had all kinds of A/B testing, where they sent two people different versions of a thing and learned what worked better. But they had it in very limited ways. The Obama people not only took it to another level, they innovated and took it somewhere else that the commercial providers hasn't figured out yet. While Romney's people could say that this fundraising email worked better than that one, Obama's people could say that this email worked better in this specific county because of text that was created based on interviews from the people that knocked on doors from streets in that neighborhood. They have thousands of versions of that email. This was a level of personalization never before contemplated. It even applied to everything else: web ads, letters, door knocking scripts, robocalls, and GOTV.

Romney's people went out and covered all the bases while Obama's people changed the whole game. IT vision guys like me knew it was possible to do what Obama's people had done. The tech was there. But Romney's people didn't see the need to innovate. They thought this was an execution game.

I know what the next level is. It's a completely individualized campaign with intelligent agents making human-free content decisions for individual voters, not at the demographic or county level. It's augmented reality for door knockers, it's 401K-style portotlio management for ActBlue style fundraising clearing houses and community-style grants for two-way fundraising where money flows from individuals to community groups back to individual activity without the campaign being involved at all.  All that has to be invented. Will the party find people like me who can imagine and build it? I don't know.  


[ Parent ]
...and more! (0.00 / 0)

- Romney's people all but vanished after the campaign. They didn't tell their story from what happened. They barely said anything publicly except to protect their contractors' reputations about Orca. They should have done a public post-mortem and given out as much information as the Obama people did. Of course, since they outsourced so much, that might have left them with a lot less to talk about.

- Romney's outsourcing providers had capacity, but what they didn't have were people who could handle massive growth. Growth and capacity aren't the same thing. The startup guys at Team Obama knew that.

- Romney's campaign had one tech guy "at the table" in the big campaign meetings. He was a successful tech CEO, but he didn't have top-shelf tech credentials and he didn't have a network of the best talent to reach into. The Obama team had two people at the table of big decisions. And Harper Reed, as CTO, had tremendous tech talent and was not only up on what was state of the art, but knew many others who could implement.


The Ethos Gap (0.00 / 0)
@edfactor
"They have an ethos of using technology to enable individual people to stand up to big corporations and the wealthy. It motivates them to keep moving forward and building new things."

It just occurred to me that one of the problems Republicans have is that just by nature of being conservative we tend not to want to inflict our values system on other people. Where Democrats feel at ease demonizing private citizens if they don't share the Democrat social worldview, Republicans by and large just want to leave people alone to succeed on their own merits.

If we could create a mirror ethos, one stated thusly:

"Republicans have an ethos of using technology to enable individual people to stand up to big government and social decay. It motivates them to keep moving forward and building new things."

How many tech guys know what cloud computing is, but don't have a clue about the societal necessity of healthy marriages? They just support gay marriage because its the biggest trendy new fad and all their friends support it, not because they have some principled understanding of marriage. Indeed on most of the social issues it's the most ignorant who cry the loudest.

Here in Massachusetts the most likely person to say "Republicans are anti-science" is the same person who believes human life does not start at conception, and who believes we should be funding noted murderer Robert Kosilek's cosmetic surgery to mutilate his physical genitals but would balk if he wanted a procedure to change his mental sexual attractions - as those are an immutable part of someone's identity per the left's argument.

The position of the left on social policy is easily mocked, but conservatives need to have the platform to do it. Most number crunchers have a passion for technology, not philosophy. If we can fuse the two into an ethos like I mentioned above, we'd be able to overcome the tech gap. If you can get what was once called "the religious right" to get smartphones and twitter as an evangelization tool, you'll get all the manpower you need.

Feedback appreciated.


Well Written (0.00 / 0)
GOP, take heed.

Made RNC Tech Connection! (0.00 / 0)
I have just connected with a guy at the RNC who is a technology director. The conversation has begun. Let's hope some sharing of ideas can help Chairman Preibus in his goal of getting better GOP Tech.

Ed, incredible work and analysis. (0.00 / 0)
way over my head, but someone's got to do it, and understand it.  Thanks for tackling this and taking the time to explain.

[ Parent ]
hey Rob (0.00 / 0)
I'm a techie and a Republican




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