On the Rise of a ‘Culture of Data’ on the Left

At one of this year’s many data-focused Netroots Nation panels, former Obama data guru Ethan Roeder noted something about the effective use of voter-targeting technologies: that’s it’s less about the data itself, and more about creating a culture of letting the information in front of us determine how we proceed. For years, campaigns have made many decisions based on a consultant or staffer’s hunch — which at times was influenced by what would make that consultant money. But as the Analyst Institute’s Gina Schwartz pointed out, “scientifically minded, data-driven techniques are getting baked in” to political campaigns on the Left far more than on the Right (so far).

As an example of what can go wrong if you DON’T rely on the information in front of you, Ethan pointed to Mitt Romney in the last days of the 2012 presidential race. His campaign had access to the same polls that outsiders (like Nate Silver) and the Obama campaign could see, but they discounted them: they FELT that their narrative was working, and they convinced themselves that the polls were off. They functionally lived in a dream world, meaning that they couldn’t allocate their last-minute outreach and resources effectively. On a day when he would lose by almost four percentage points, Romney’s presidential transition website was briefly visible, and he didn’t even have a concession speech prepared.

Of course, data (and other campaign techniques) can only take you so far…political races are still won and lost on the fundamentals. More on that soon.


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