Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

David Plouffe: The Obama Campaign Used Grassroots Data and Computer Modeling to Allocate Resources in Real Time

BY Colin Delany | Wednesday, December 24 2008

Cross-posted on e.politics

A week or two ago, I happened to catch the C-Span broadcast of a fascinating discussion at Harvard's Kennedy School -- PBS's Gwen Ifill moderated a panel including David Axelrod and David Plouffe from the Obama campaign and Richard Davis and Bill McInturff from McCain's operation. The entire discussion is brain-food for any political junkie, but one segment particularly jumped out at me: David Plouffe gave an extended description of how the Obama campaign used volunteer-produced data to create computer-generated models of states -- down to segments of a media market -- to determine how the campaign was doing at any given moment.

And it wasn't an idle mental exercise, since they used these simulations to make essentially overnight changes in how and where to concentrate resources, including candidate and surrogate visits. On the video, the critical bit starts right around minute 57, in answer to a question from a Kennedy School grad student about how modern campaigns use data; a transcript is below.

Obviously a campaign's about message delivery at the candidate level, but at the campaign level, it is about numbers. And going back to Iowa, even our own survey data showed a different race than our field data did. And it was very instructive to us...

...In our own campaign, polling was just one way we viewed how we were doing in a state in the general election. We had a lot of voter identification work. We had a lot of field data. So we'd put all that together and model out the election in those states every week. So we'd say, okay, if the election were held this week based on all our data, put it all in a blender, where are we? And obviously, with technology today, we could measure this very carefully. We don't have to wait for a state to report in how they did that night; we can look at it, down to the volunteer level, because we trusted our volunteers. We gave them the voter file, we said here are the people on your block, you go talk to 'em, you record the result of the conversation. We in Chicago could look at that...

...It makes you enormously agile. You've got real-time data, and that makes you make scheduling decisions and resource-allocation decisions and where to send surrogates and you're adjusting those by the end multiple times a day. Not just down to the media market, but down to chunks of voters in those media markets. We're not doing as well as we need to here, so we've got to throw a lot of our resources in there. These guys are making a surge in a media market, we've got to go try and correct that.

Talk about getting rid of the guesswork! But note that everything depends on the quality of the data (Garbage In, Garbage Out), and it's no surprise that the Obamans put serious resources into training volunteers and their organizers. Grassroots communications isn't just outreach -- do it right, and it helps keep you from stabbing wildly in the dark. Welcome to modern machine politics.

cpd

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More