Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The limits of new campaign technology


I just finished reading Sasha Issenberg's Victory Lab, a very interesting treatment of how the ability to gather increasingly sophisticated information about voters has enabled campaigns to better target their voter ID and get-out-the-vote efforts. The book ends with a discussion of Obama's campaign and its effective use of this approach, also called "analytics," to win.

It is, as publishing company PR departments invariably say, a must-read for anyone interested in elections and politics.

As I made my way through the book, however, it did occur to me that having the boots on the ground, funding and campaign infrastructure in place to make use of these piles of data might be, for many campaigns, especially in down-ballot races, a bridge too far. 

A recent article in Advertising Age addresses the challenges:
The fact is...most state legislative or U.S. House candidates can't possibly use all the data that's been given to the party. And, just as important, a single candidate simply doesn't have the resources to hire more than one internal data handler, much less replicate the 50-plus crew that steered the Obama analytics ship.

"People read about the Obama juggernaut," said Tom Bonier, co-founder and partner of Clarity Campaign Labs, a data-analytics firm that works with Democratic campaigns. "If you're a state legislative caucus director … you look at that and say, 'In no way is that anything that we could possibly do.'"

Or, as they put it  "individual campaigns across the country may struggle to use something as big and complex as Obama's data trove, which was built for a nationwide campaign. Think of taking a fire hose to your flower garden, or asking the local marina's security guy to dock a submarine."

This doesn't mean that improved methods aren't important, only that they come with their own set of problems.

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