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From Harvard to RootsCamp A Look At Digital Campaigning

December 4, 2012

Digital campaigning strategies are headlining the news-cycle this week and for good reason- there’s nothing people like more after the campaign season than rehashing it. Nate Silver, Mother Jones, and Slate in particular had truly interesting takes on what made this year so successfully for OFA in particular

From the geographic talent gap to the more hospitable environment data targeting enthusiasts and academics have created on the left, each tell a starking tale about the 2012 Presidential election.

From FiveThirtyEight,

Since Democrats had the support of 80 percent or 90 percent of the best and brightest minds in the information technology field, it shouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Obama’s information technology infrastructure was viewed as state-of-the-art exemplary, whereas everyone from Republican volunteers to Silicon Valley journalists have criticized Mr. Romney’s systems. Mr. Romney’s get-out-the-vote application, Project Orca, is widely viewed as having failed on Election Day, perhaps contributing to a disappointing Republican turnout.

This is not intended to absolve Mr. Romney and his campaign entirely. There were undoubtedly many bright and talented information technology professionals who worked for Mr. Romney, and who might have fielded a better product given better management.

Even if only 10 percent or 20 percent of elite information technology professionals would consider working for a Republican like Mr. Romney, this is still a reasonably large talent pool to draw from.

But Democrats are drawing from a much larger group of potential staff and volunteers in Silicon Valley.

From MotherJones,

Since Election Day, there’s been much introspection on the right about the various ways in which the left is kicking its ass—and how the GOP can turn things around. It needs to become more appealing to Silicon Valley. It needs to reinvest in Big Data. It needs its own Analyst Institute. It needs a ground game. Ruffini has been a source of much of that harping, which is part of the reason he’s made his visit to Roots Camp in the first place.

“I don’t know that I’m surprised by anything I’ve seen here,” Ruffini says when it’s over. But it’s revealing nonetheless. “I’m sort of more impressed by the scale of it, the level of participation and interest in these topics, that I’ve seen tangentially discussed in Republican circles, but mostly in conference rooms, not at conferences. And for what it’s worth, that perspective, the data-driven perspective, did not win out in our campaigns this year.”

The right has no shortage of conferences for activists, but nothing as purpose-driven and digitally savvy as Roots Camp. For that matter, it has no real answer to the New Organizing Institute itself, which operates in perpetual election mode, grooming Democratic field operatives across the country. “I mean look I think you’ve got RightOnline, you’ve got a number of major conferences that cater to conservatives,” he says. “I don’t know that any are quite as focused on digital as this. It’s the next step in the evolution.” And Ruffini’s not the only one studying up on the new Chicago machine. When top Democratic and Republican campaign aides gathered at Harvard last week to talk about the race, GOPers packed talks by Obama staffers. As one Republican strategist told BuzzFeed, “We got our butts kicked, so I’m going to school.”

And finally from Slate, which I thought had the best take.

On Friday, they packed the room for a panel titled “This Shit Actually Works,” where MoveOn revealed the results of a voter turnout experiment demo-ed in Delaware’s sleepy September primary. MoveOn wanted to test what sort of generic-looking mail was most effective for getting a possible voter off the couch—a “best practices” appeal to their civic duty or “social pressure” that compared a voter with his neighbors. Daniel Mintz showed the crowd an old attempt at social pressure, a list of neighbors and their scores that “looked like crap.” Then he revealed MoveOn’s “voter report card.” Featuring smiling stock-photo children, it revealed how often the target had voted and how often his neighbors had voted.

“Turnout for the control group was control 19.3 percent,” Mintz revealed. “Turnout for ‘best practices’ was 21.5 percent. Among people who got the ‘social pressure’ mail, turnout was 22.8 percent.” The point wasn’t really to convince new voters to choose Obama. It was to activate the soft voters who Democrats knew were out there.

In theory, Republicans could have ripped this off. My colleague Sasha Issenberg has reported, all year, about the stat-geek techniques used by Democrats to tune up the standard tricks of get-out-the-vote campaigns and voter persuasion. Plenty of the RootsCampers I talked to had stories from losing campaigns, dating back to the Kerry 2004 debacle, when there was no real science about TV ads. The left had evolved faster than the right had evolved. Jeremy Bird, the national field director for OFA, told his Saturday audience of a plan that synched up perfectly with MoveOn and labor.
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