Obama’s election victory last year stunned many people, including me. In the aftermath there were a lot of pieces about how he did it. I was fascinated to learn about the high-tech voter targeting and fundraising his campaign used, with the Republicans crawling along on technology developed in 2004, and I posted on what I found out. A couple of the most informative articles I found are linked in Obama’s Nerds, on his massive tech strategy, and Obama’s get-out-the-vote effort in the hands of tyrants. All the posts in the category Obama Campaign Strategy are here.
So I was interested to see a piece from The Federalist by Patrick Ruffini called After the Cave: What Have Republicans Learned About Digital Since 2012? It begins:
One year ago this week, Republicans suffered a greater than expected defeat, and it was partly because they seemed oblivious to modern ways of doing things. This critique could be made on both messaging and tactical fronts, as the failed Orca project [Romney’s get-out-the-vote system] came to symbolize everything that was comically wrong with the party’s technology and digital operations.
….One year later, how is the GOP doing on this front? We ask this question against the backdrop of races for Virginia Governor and Attorney General which were decided within the margin of strategy and tactics. It’s quite possible that the legacy and know-how of the Obama 2012 operation was able to drag Terry McAuliffe across the finish line. Yes, McAuliffe had more money, but he also used technology to spend it more effectively.
Ruffini concludes that the Republican committees are making serious efforts to upgrade their tech capabilities and field infrastructure. But —
The bad news? The campaigns (whose performance actually determines who gets elected) still haven’t adjusted. They are still hiring the same people with the same cultural baggage, and making many of the same bad decisions. Either they believe the Obama field and digital example doesn’t apply to them, or they claim to be addressing the challenge with one-dimensional solutions that address a small part of the problem, or knockoffs that don’t are no match for the vastness and sophistication of the Democrats’ tech operation.
There were few signs the Cuccinelli campaign took tech seriously.
This is not due to a lack of innovation and talented staff at the campaign level, but to a hyper-reactive, TV-focused traditional consultants at the top who still don’t believe that digital is part of the basic blocking and tackling one needs to do to actually move votes.
Ah yes, the Rove model — lots of money for the consultants with less-than-optimal results for the candidate. The Cooch campaign spent a pittance on tech, a small percent of what McAuliffe put out. And big spending wasn’t always required:
In addition, McAuliffe successfully downscaled Obama’s analytics “Cave” to a statewide race. For just under 1 percent of Democratic spending in Virginia, or about $200,000, a Washington, D.C. company called BlueLabs ran continually updated dynamic models that not only assigned each Virginia voter a score on their likelihood to vote for McAuliffe, but also judged how likely they were to change their mind.
Republicans have to change the way they campaign — right away, for next year’s all-important congressional elections. Even one campaign that was doing it right could provide a model for others, as well as identifying the tech experts who know what to do. Surely all the great techies are not Democrats.