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The Data Crunchers Who Helped Win The Election 208

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-least-we-didn't-ask-the-bynars dept.
concealment sends in a story at Time that goes behind the scenes with the team of data crunchers that powered many of the Obama campaign's decisions in the lead-up to the election. From the article: "For all the praise Obama's team won in 2008 for its high-tech wizardry, its success masked a huge weakness: too many databases. Back then, volunteers making phone calls through the Obama website were working off lists that differed from the lists used by callers in the campaign office. Get-out-the-vote lists were never reconciled with fundraising lists. It was like the FBI and the CIA before 9/11: the two camps never shared data. ... So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states. The new megafile didn't just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn't just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign's most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data about voters helped round out the picture. 'We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,' said one of the senior advisers about the predictive profiles built by the data. 'In the end, modeling became something way bigger for us in '12 than in '08 because it made our time more efficient.'"
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The Data Crunchers Who Helped Win The Election

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  • Ummm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nexion (1064) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:29PM (#41912745)

    creepy.

    • Re:Ummm... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jstlook (1193309) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:42PM (#41913561)
      Again, I'm going to reiterate my point. I don't care if they spend a billion dollars on a campaign (I prefer my privacy, thanks) on one condition:
      Use your datamining to actually get government right. Figure out what everybody wants, and find a solution. If you're going to "run 66,000 campaign predictions a night", how many can you run that analyze the effects of your policies, actions, and decisions.
      Cause honestly, it looks to me like government has gotten really good at screwing things up. I'd hate to lose my faith in humanity before I'm dead.
      • Use your datamining to actually get government right. Figure out what everybody wants, and find a solution

        You know what everybody wants: lots of free loot and they want their neighbors to stop living in ways that they don't approve of (a pony is optional but appreciated by the kids). And they want all of that without paying for it themselves and without any restrictions on their own liberties.

        And the solution is also simple: as a politician, you pass laws giving people free loot, pay for it by borrowing mo

        • by Nite_Hawk (1304)

          I think what's scary is that it seems like there are a significant number of people that care more about their relative status in society more than they care about the baseline. IE they would rather have more than their neighbor even if it meant both standards of living were lower than they would be otherwise. I think this is what fuels some very bad decisions that our society makes.

      • by denobug (753200)
        The Left didn't win because of organization. The Left won because the Right is intolerant of the Moderate (at least the hard-core Left learned to keep quiet, for the most part), making Left looks like more accommodating to the Moderate than the Right. And Moderate don't like being push out of the circle.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          "The Left" didn't win. Try Europe for "The Left". The less batshit-mental right won.

      • by Legion303 (97901)

        beelzebub

        Come on, Wingtards, figure it out. Is Obama Satan? Is he Marx? Hitler? He's not all of them. Get a god damn consensus.

        Back on topic, I don't know what the criteria were for this database. I've never been registered Democrat. I've never donated, time or money. I've never even participated in an exit poll. But fuck me, I was getting 4 robocalls a day from them, a full snail mail box, shit taped to my door...I never even got to tell anyone in person why Obama could fuck off this cycle, but at least I got to je

        • There was some dude on the Daily Show who let slip that they use (in part) information purchased from reward cards, your credit score, and other commercially-purchasable demographic information such as warranty cards.

          His argument was that this was doing the voter a service by enabling (the Democrats) to sell them a 'targeted message'. Jon nervously laughed at him but it was clear even he thought this wasn't a particularly comfortable revelation.

          Americans aren't voters anymore, they're customers, and the par

        • by TheLink (130905)
          My question is with all that fancy stuff did Obama really win by a huge margin?
    • by Talderas (1212466)

      Consider this. They're data mining to find what to say to get you to vote for them. Most likely, they're data mining out what is causing voters the most angst and fear and basically reinforcing it.

      Politics these days is all about figuring out what you're afraid of and appealing to it because fear is one of the most powerful motivators.

  • Very interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:36PM (#41912829)

    I don't get involved in politics these days, but I'm still registered as a Republican. As a consequence, I still get political calls and mail from time to time. The one thing I've noticed about how the GOP operates is that they make a lot of assumptions about what I think on various issues. It's like they cannot fathom that I might look at things a little bit differently than the party line. After reading this article, it makes me wonder if the GOP is out of touch with other voters who lean to the right.

    It sounds like the Democrats have put a lot of effort into understanding their electorate.

    • Once people figure out how to do a certain something, other people can do it too.
    • Re:Very interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PRMan (959735) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:47PM (#41912947)
      I have the EXACT same experience. They were floored when I asked them whether their next presidential candidate had different view on redefining torture and if not, I was voting for Obama. The phone literally got so silent I could hear other conversations in the background clearly.
      • They were trying to work out how to get you off the phone as quick as possible without insulting you.
        • They were trying to work out how to get you off the phone as quick as possible without insulting you.

          Unlikely. Politely ending a phone call is going to be so common for campaigners that there are going to be at least a handful of generic scripts for them to follow. What this anecdote says is that the idea was not one the particular caller had ever considered and, more importantly to the GP's point, chances are their script writers had not either.

      • by dunezone (899268) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:39AM (#41916033) Journal

        I have the EXACT same experience. They were floored when I asked them whether their next presidential candidate had different view on redefining torture and if not, I was voting for Obama. The phone literally got so silent I could hear other conversations in the background clearly.

        Listed as a Republican so they call me as well. The last time they called the individual on the other side of the phone immediately jumped into a speech about appealing Obama Care. Never asked my opinion or anything just immediately assumed I was against it because I was registered as a Republican. It became very awkward for him when I started talking about how I liked some of the provisions within the bill and that I would rather see improvements instead of a full appeal of the bill.

        Unless the Republican party starts to accept that certain social/political/economic norms are changing they will continue to bleed voters.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by superdave80 (1226592)

      It sounds like the Democrats have put a lot of effort into understanding their electorate.

      They put a lot of effort into knowing what the electorate wants to hear. Once in office, they could give a crap what the electorate thinks.

      • by ibwolf (126465)

        It sounds like the Democrats have put a lot of effort into understanding their electorate.

        They put a lot of effort into knowing what the electorate wants to hear. Once in office, they could give a crap what the electorate thinks.

        Whereas the Republicans skip straight to not giving a crap about what the electorate thinks. Must admit, very efficient.

    • by poity (465672)

      It seems like this is just about finding out who has money, time, or social influence, and coaxing those out of people with a more focused approach. The greatest effect it has on their actual policy is to more clearly establish the boundaries of mass opinion so that they can color inside the lines so to speak and avoid controversy. It won't change the party message by much.

      "Understand" is also an interesting word to use, and perhaps appropriate -- one can understand in order to better serve, or understand i

  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:46PM (#41912919)
    than a president who understands technology and has been in charge of groups manipulating and using big data.
  • by swb (14022) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:46PM (#41912921)

    ....that candidates are winning elections via data mining versus appealing to people with ideas?

    It seems like Wall Street's version of capitalism -- just focus on the numbers, not on making a newer widget, and we can manipulate our way to victory.

    I know, you can make the argument that sending the right message to the people receptive that message will get you money, votes, whatever, but at the same time it seems cynical and manipulative. It doesn't seem like it's about developing leadership ideas that appeal to people generally and winning them over with charisma and the strength of your arguments.

    • by Mitreya (579078)

      Does it bother anyone... ....that candidates are winning elections via data mining versus appealing to people with ideas?

      It seems like Wall Street's version of capitalism -- just focus on the numbers, not on making a newer widget, and we can manipulate our way to victory.

      Yes, yes it does.
      But then Obama had manipulated his way to victory by making "idea" promises too, 4 years ago. He promised to undo most of questionable Bush-administration tactics, but instead he expanded on (most of) them.

      So yes, they use what they can

      When they had a candidate with very little record on issues, he ran on ideas that appealed to people. Never mind that he turned around and did the opposite for a shocking number of promises right away. Not "tried to follow up and failed" but "did the exac

    • by wile_e8 (958263)

      ....that candidates are winning elections via data mining versus appealing to people with ideas?

      I wouldn't say that that they won via data mining, they still appealed to people with ideas to win the election. They just used data mining to determine the best way to present the ideas in order to appeal to the most people more efficiently.

    • Do you know anybody who either decided to vote, or changed their vote, based on some stranger autodialing their number? I don't, and I don't imagine this sort of shift would happen often enough to actually change the election. It sounds like they used data mining to optimize campaign contributions more than anything else.

      The republicans had an utterly weak candidate. Even with the economy as trashed as it is, they couldn't take the silver platter offered to them, just like the democrats couldn't capitali

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:15PM (#41913261) Homepage

      What's wrong with data mining? It's effectively the same job that campaign managers have been doing for decades (or more), but now more accurately. In the 1800s, a candidate could campaign on a platform of what he thought the voters wanted to hear. Now, candidates can know the views of their constituents, and make plans and promises based on more accurate information.

      Now, I'm not naive enough to think that all those promises will be kept, but it does bode well that the elected officials have a pretty accurate model of their constituents, should they actually decide to refer to it.

      • by dunezone (899268)

        What's wrong with data mining?

        Absolutely nothing. From my understanding the Obama campaign didn't go to areas that were red and tried to convince them to vote blue. Instead they went to areas that were already blue and used the information that was being data mined to find those that weren't voting. I would assume its easier to convince someone to vote then it is to switch political parties.

    • It bothers me deeply, but it doesn't surprise me.

    • It's easier to manipulate perception than to manipulate reality; it's easier to make people believe you're going to or already have fixed the problem than it is to actually work on the problem itself. The sad sad outrageous part is that they then spend (a large integer) times the amount of money on manipulating perception than the amount of money that they might have needed to address the problem.

      The "focus on the numbers" and "fix the perception so we look like we're winning" is the same as:

      .

      Lowering y

  • vs. Orca (Score:4, Informative)

    by klui (457783) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:50PM (#41912985)
    I wonder how large this database was compared to Romney's Orca. http://washingtonexaminer.com/stunned-romney-supporters-struggle-to-explain-defeat/article/2512861#.UJqIxRh8zOU [washingtonexaminer.com] The article said the system crashed. I'm pretty sure that's the system Karl Rove was looking at when he was on Fox News trying to rebut their analysts' projection of an Obama victory in Ohio. http://www.mediaite.com/tv/karl-rove-causes-fox-news-chaos-by-challenging-obama-victory-projection/ [mediaite.com]
  • by ideonexus (1257332) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @06:52PM (#41912999) Homepage Journal
    ...moving us closer and closer to psychohistory [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...moving us closer and closer to psychohistory.

      Nate Silver (or other predictors) might be be doing so

      This data analysis is the exact opposite of psychohistory.

      First, it was specifically aimed at groups of people and could not predict actions of an individual. The campaign mining is actually about doing by-individual analysis to see what kind of plea/solicitation they may respond to best.

      Second, the population should remain ignorant of the application of psychohistory rules or they may be affected by such knowledge. And we clearly know about the dat

  • /. editors! You should start to pull your hair out.

  • ... the data crunchers with the help of the spying on Americans and MSM entertainment control were able to figure out exactly how to manipulate many things to achieve the goal of what they were hired to do. To cause the voters to believe they actually voted the way it was said to have.

    Fact is voter turnout was the lowest it has been at least as far back as prior to 1948 election perhaps further back.
    Obama trailed at roughly under 1 million for most of the tally and then was approx 1.5 million behind Romney

    • ... the data crunchers with the help of the spying on Americans and MSM entertainment control were able to figure out exactly how to manipulate many things to achieve the goal of what they were hired to do. To cause the voters to believe they actually voted the way it was said to have.

      Fact is voter turnout was the lowest it has been at least as far back as prior to 1948 election perhaps further back.
      Obama trailed at roughly under 1 million for most of the tally and then was approx 1.5 million behind Romney in popular vote when declared the winner.

      So with less that 50% of eligible voters voting .....the people did not elect anyone. But hey it made for a sports style event with teh last minute tally comeback.

      This was not a sports event!

      Given the political bias I have seen on slashdot.... I do expect this to be moderated troll.... But that not like our election voting.... is it?

      So what are you saying? A non-voter should count as a Romney voter? Obama lost?

      Take your beating like a man, you self-pitying twerp.

    • by hibiki_r (649814)

      Behind in the popular vote for most of the tally... sure, because the west coast has an very high population, and every state in the coast votes for the Democrats more often than not. Therefore, the popular vote will always look to favor the republican candidate, barring an absolute Dem. landslide that we've not seen in our lifetimes.

      And really, complaining about a low turnout when most elections have a winner-take-all approach is rather naive. If a race is is not in a dead heat, chances that a presidential

  • by medv4380 (1604309) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:19PM (#41913313)
    One of their callers let it slip what my "ranking" was. For some reason they think I'm a strong democrat. I'm not sure what they think that means because if the Republicans would ever get their act together and field a Strong Moderate Republican like Powell then I'd vote Republican. Instead they've taken the last decade purging out moderates and acting crazy. Someone failed to consolidate those database though. If they had done it right then they would know they called my home phone, and cell phone. You only have to confirm that I'm voting once, maybe twice. After that I ether am voting or I've been Joshing you. But no, I got about 13 calls from them. Each campaign needs to share data so I don't get inundated by the local legislature, house and presidential campaign. I can't imagine what actual battle ground states actually got since I'm in an area where the winner could have been called a year before the election.
  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @07:19PM (#41913317)
    re: determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record
    .

    Voting record? I thought we had secret ballots in this country and that no one is supposed to have access to individual voters' voting records? Do they mean simply registration records and if they voted in a particular election?

    And it seemed worrisome that the government would tabulate this infomation on us so they outlawed it; then they found the loophole that while the gov't couldn't compile the data, private companies could, and then the gov't can look at the private companies' data and still proclaim they never broke the law. "Brave New World", indeed...

    • re: determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record .

      Voting record? I thought we had secret ballots in this country and that no one is supposed to have access to individual voters' voting records? Do they mean simply registration records and if they voted in a particular election?

      No, they meant your actual votes.

      Ever notice, when you walk up to the poll worker, how they scan your ID, write a number next to your name in their little book, then write the same number on the top of your ballot?

      Yea, secret my ass.

      • by blueg3 (192743)

        Ever notice, when you walk up to the poll worker, how they scan your ID, write a number next to your name in their little book, then write the same number on the top of your ballot?

        ...

        In New York, at least, every part of this statement is false.

    • In some states you must publicly declare yourself to be either a republican or democart in order to vote in the primaries. I'm guessing that's the record they are refering to.

    • Private polls conducted by the campaign. "Click here to indicate that you voted for Obama." Nothing illegal about it.

    • by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday November 07, 2012 @08:40PM (#41914121)

      It's the record of whether or not you voted, which is public information. (Which party you declare when you register, and whether you're registered, is also public information.)

      One of the things they talk about in TFA (I know, I know) is that an important part of their model is figuring out whether people are likely to vote and, for those who aren't but could be convinced, what strategy will convince them to vote. Probably your past history of whether you've voted is a component in that analysis.

      • Thanks for your answer. I did read the FA; I must have missed that point. I didn't realize that voter registries were public information. Are you required to give your phone-number? That must be how people get all of the robo-call spams for elections...

        .

        Can you refuse to give a phone number when you register? (I'm not registered; I'm not old enough yet. My parents tend to think that they're always required to give out stuff like their own email and phone numbers; they pretty much do it at almost eve

  • by Tora (65882)

    And this doesn't frighten ANY of the privacy advocates here on slashdot? Were this any other government organization people would be screaming to the hills, so why is Obama given a free pass for this sort of privacy incursions?

  • It's nothing new and has been around for 20+ years. Anytime data is siloed in separate systems, you need to consider this technique.
  • I wish I could say more... yes.

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