The Obama campaign achieved what looked like a miracle: They found millions of new voters who gave him his win. How they did it is the subject of a book by Sasha Issenberg, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. Issenberg was interviewed by Ernest Istook on his morning talk show at the Heritage Foundation, Istook Live!
Istook wrote up the interview in a fascinating summary of the groups involved in the project and some of their methods. He begins:
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).
Years of stealthy multimillion-dollar efforts paid off for America’s left in the 2008 and 2012 victories by President Barack Obama. Using new voter science to get rare and first-time voters to go to the polls, the races have changed America’s electorate — those who make the country’s decisions by showing up and voting.
In the 2004 presidential campaign Republicans used micro-targeting to characterize voters, and that was new and exciting. Apparently the Republicans haven’t moved much farther than that in the last eight years, while the Democrats have built up a massive infrastructure, staffed by some of the best social scientists and political experts around.
One of their groups, Analyst Institute (AI), employs hundreds of data analysts and behavioral scientists, mostly from top-level colleges. AI is like a private think tank, and it has conducted hundreds of experiments relating to voter behavior. Its 2009 and 2010 research priorities 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.
In 2012 the Obama campaign used the knowledge gathered over several years to effectively target potential voters. Istook quotes Issenberg:
The work of Analyst Institute has “upended much of what the political world thought it knew about how voters’ minds work, and dramatically changed the way that campaigns approach, cajole, and manipulate them.”
There’s more; read the whole thing. And read some of the comments, especially one by James B, about the 7th one down.
In my last post I said the Republicans have to copy the Obama campaign’s methods. But we also have to adapt them to suit our character. I think Democrats have to cajole and manipulate voters because they can’t win without ignorant and disengaged people. Their experiments were about how to get them just engaged enough to vote for Obama. They didn’t even engage them enough to vote for other Democrat candidates! It was all about Obama’s personality and coolness and motivating them for a one-time, one-candidate vote.
Republicans aren’t going to win that way. First of all, we don’t have any cool candidates. (If one appears, he or she is immediately targeted for destruction by the left.) And unlike the Democrats, we have something real to offer people. So we certainly want to know about how to motivate people to vote, how to engage people, how to use social networking, and so on. But we don’t have to approach the job with the sneaky attitude of the left. They instinctively lie; we don’t. We do have to learn how to communicate much better, and I’ll have something to say about that in a future post.
If any readers know of relevant research going on among Republicans, let me know.