After a couple of cycles in which Republican online presidential campaign staff didn’t seem to know what hit them, a book about Obama 2012’s data and analytics operation is suddenly all the rage on the Right. NY Mag’s Steve Friess reports that Republican political operatives are now rushing to read Sasha Issenberg’s book on how Obama’s team used a scientific approach to targeting voters and fine-tuning messaging:
At the Republican National Committee annual meetings in Boston last month, copies of The Victory Lab were ubiquitous, toted around by GOP strategists and aides in the midst of midterm campaign prep. (“Many of us have read The Victory Lab,” Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the RNC, said in an e-mail.) Though he declines all partisan speaking invites, Issenberg has been heavily sought as a speaker at GOP events â€” including at the Republican Governors Association â€œtech summitâ€ in Mackinac, Michigan, later this month.
Of course, “carrying” and “reading” are two very different things (how many undergrads have carted around a copy of Kerouac’s On The Road without ever cracking it open?), as are “reading” and “applying.” And as we’ve discussed, many Republican political activists already have a firm grasp of how to use the internet to spread messaging — the problem is often with the messages they’re spreading (“Abortion Barbie”!).
Still, the rise of an evidence-based approach has to be a positive for Republican campaigns, as is the new prominence of smart staff like Vincent Harris, mentioned in the piece for his work helping Ted Cruz beat the Texas Republican establishment to win a Senate seat (he’s now working for Mitch McConnell). But one book — good as it is, and I highly recommend that you read it — does not a movement make. To win, the idea of “going with the data” rather than “going with your gut” needs to sink into the souls of Republican campaign staff, and of the candidates themselves. To be competitive, they’ll need to match the “culture of data” that’s arisen on the Left in recent years.
Plus, they’ll need to build out the staff base that Democrats currently enjoy — thousands of experienced organizers, advertisers and analysts with more than one data-driven campaign in their pasts. These staff — and the array of companies and organizations churning out new tools for Democrats and progressives — compose a vibrant political/tech ecosystem, a boiling stew of people, technology and ideas that’s helped to push Democrats into the lead online. Systems like these don’t arise overnight, and despite their new learning, Republicans will have to push that rock awfully hard up the hill to have any chance of catching up. Once they do, perhaps we can start talking about an evidence-based approach to governing and public policy…though that may be too much to ask for now.