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Saturday, October 22, 2016

This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you The Message: The Reselling Of President Obama by journalist, author, and executive editor Richard Wolffe. The Messagewhich is to be released on September 17, will be Wolffe’s third book about President Obama, and focuses on the Obama campaign’s surprising ability to pull out wins in 2008 and 2012, despite the fracturing and dysfunctional relationships within the team. Wolffe attributes the campaign’s success to being able to successfully control the message. He details the daunting task of reselling the president to doubtful Americans, as well as the campaign’s knack for using technology and planning to highlight his strengths — and define Mitt Romney in a way that handed Obama a sweeping victory in 2012.

You can purchase the book here.

One of the myths of 2008 was the technological prowess of the Obama team. There was little doubt that Chicago was far better organized and technologically proficient than the McCain team. But that wasn’t saying much. The experience of 2008 was not especially helpful in crafting the strategy in 2012. Facebook in 2008 was a fifth of the size and efficacy it would have four years later. Back in 2008, Twitter had barely begun to gain traction: the campaign posted a handful of tweets through the twenty-​one-​month election. Obama’s team had modeled its main URL——on MySpace: a white elephant in the world of social networks. The most viral online video of the 2008 cycle was produced by recording artist independently of the Obama team. The primaries were so improvised and extended that there was little chance to build any coherent database nationwide. By the time the funds and national organization kicked in for the general election, there were only three months left to build an integrated technology. So it never really happened. Besides, Obama’s digital team felt entirely underwhelmed by the voter files handed over by the Democratic National Committee when their candidate finally secured the nomination.

With two years to build world-​class technology, the 2012 Obama campaign had a singular goal in mind: to build a gigantic file about every voter in every battleground state. They started with a basic voter file showing name, address, age, party affiliation (in many but not all states), and voter participation in previous elections. That information was layered with census data showing ethnicity, income, and education. Then the campaign bought commercial data on top of that with two thousand characteristics, including magazine subscriptions. Finally, and most important, they added in six years of data from the Obama campaign: whether you contributed, displayed a lawn sign, and how you responded to every phone call and door knock.

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Each voter was assigned a probability score of their likelihood to be an Obama supporter. A zero score meant that you were going to vote for Romney. A 100 score meant you were for Obama. If they didn’t have a good enough handle on you, they could make thousands of phone calls or knock on hundreds of doors to refine the modeling. The more data they collected, the more they refined the model, confirming predictions or updating analyses as they went along.

Their targets were the ones squarely in the middle: the mathematically defined swing voters. Most of Chicago’s essential efforts were designed with them in mind: understanding who they were and trying to persuade them to move closer to the 100 score. Volunteers knocking on doors in Cleveland were trying to find people in the range of 45 to 55 scores. Direct mail went to the addresses of 45-to-55s in Virginia and Ohio. And the TV ads so carefully crafted and focus group tested needed to reach those same targets. If Chicago couldn’t reach them on TV, they tried to find them online. Advertising was moving from what they called dumb TV (broadcast to millions of undifferentiated viewers) to a combination of smart TV and digital (targeted to specific voter types). If it succeeded, political advertising would never be the same again.

Voter scores existed in 2008, to be sure. But the scores were directional rather than precise. People with a score under 50 were generally not voting for Obama. But it proved very hard to tell a 45 apart from a 65. And that was precisely where the election was going to be contested in 2012. This time around, the modeling needed to be laser targeted.


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  • charleo1

    I think a lot of us would be surprised to learn what advertisers, and big business know about us, both as a demographic, and as individuals. For example, I am, “thinking,” about getting a new car before too long. So, I went on the net to check out some of the latest models. Window shopped several companies, and several types of cars. And, within days my mailbox was full of ads from local car dealers.
    A lot of them with pictures of the very cars I had taken a closer look at! So, if
    you’re ever feeling left out, and no one is listening. Get on the internet. You’ll find attention a plenty. Target advertising works, so it’s logical political campaigns
    would use it. GOP legislatures, in states where they hold unstoppable majorities, used computer technology to combine, what they know about you, with where
    you live, to severely gerrymander hundreds of voting districts across the Country. So, if we wonder why the Republican Party is constantly stroking it’s minority base, voting ObamaCare down, time, and time again. Voting to cut food stamps by a whopping 60 billion dollars over the next ten years, while protecting the rich who have realized 95% of the recovery gains. It’s because many of these Right Wing ideologues, come from districts that have been made unaccountable to only the most radical elements in the Republican base. Who only disapprove of their behavior when they commit the unforgivable sin of working with the Democrats.

    • silence dogood

      And for dimwits look you it is going to get worse come the first Tuesday of November 2014.

      • countrygirl59

        Now that wasn’t very nice!

      • nirodha

        You know, charleo makes intelligent posts, and you make stupid posts. Who is the dimwit?

  • Dominick Vila

    The use of state of the art technology helped, but what killed Mitt Romney’s chances was his comment about the 47% of Americans. Romney was not the victim of technological prowess, he self-destructed when he revealed his contempt for the less fortunate, when he demonstrated that he does not understand the problems that afflict the overwhelming majority of Americans, and when he reminded us that he was a ruthless elitist who could care else about anyone but himself.

    • charleo1

      Other than the several non-candidates such as Bachman, Cain, or Santorum,
      I thought Romney was the worst of the lot of the serious contenders, like
      TX Gov. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, or Jon Huntsman. For one thing, in the
      wake of a financial crisis, Romney epitomized a lot of what had gone so
      terribly wrong with the system to begin with. Well, it wasn’t me, so he claimed.
      Then hid all of his tax returns, except the one he had crafted with running
      for President in mind. Romney is the kind of candidate you run in economic
      boom times. With the message, I’m rich, and I know how to make the good
      times even better! Then there was his troubled relationship with the truth.
      The guy didn’t open his mouth, that a lie didn’t come pouring out. “Yes,
      the recession was bad, but Obama made it worse.” Then obviously,
      someone told him no one believed that, including himself. And, so he slightly
      changed the message to, I could have made the economy better quicker.
      And people thought, if it wasn’t for Republican obstruction, the economy
      could have recovered quicker, all by itself, without any President whatsoever.

    • John Pigg

      I have a different view, go figure. I view his 47% comments as a perfect snapshot to his whole candidacy. What you have is a Mass Republican Moderate who says that he is really a fire breathing conservative. His VP choice was really telling that he would rather add style than substance.

      I honestly believe that Romney was actually a well meaning guy. Unfortunately, he would do and say anything to become the President of the U.S. He also lacked the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the worst elements of his party, hence the fake 47% comments.

      The Obama campaign was able to use this to their advantage immensely, hitting Romney for being both a swashbuckling far right lunatic, and then questioning why his policies and opinions change constantly.

      Had Romney taken responsibility for his successfull heal care reform in Mass. and had he not gone out of his way to alienate Ron Paul supporters he might have pulled it off. But his advisors told him that it made sense to promise the world to every constituency instead of selling hard truths.

      • nirodha

        As a resident of Massachusetts, I saw Romney as seriously flip-flopping on the health care reform issue. As governor, he took credit for Romneycare. As a presidential candidate, he had to distance himself from the ACA, so he claimed that Romneycare and Obamacare were totally different. He had to make that distinction, as false as it was, in order to avoid being crucified by the extremist right-wing libertarian and TPotty elements. The 47% remark and the denouncement of the fait accompli of health care reform in MA removed all doubt about his duplicity in the minds of many swing voters.

        • John Pigg

          Yeap completely agree, actually, in a lot of ways i saw 2012 as the exact same election as 2004.

          The American people would much rather stick with a President with faults whom they like, then trust someone who has no plan, and no principles.