No Data for Trump

Donald Trump at a campaign event

Update: A reader writes in to point out that Trump DOES have a data operation whether he knows it or not, and it’s true that his campaign’s purchased voter information from L2. But, we don’t know how they’re really using it…if at all, at least in a significant way. Certainly, the AP interview indicates that he doesn’t seem to VALUE political data, which means he’s likely to resist making decisions based on it.

You might have missed it in last week’s media frenzy over Trump’s interesting habit of posing as his own spokesperson, but the presumptive Republican nominee also revealed a couple of strategic campaigning decisions that should raise eyebrows. For one thing, he poo-pooed the data-driven approach that’s become central to political campaigning at the presidential level. Instead, he’s going all-in on the media coverage and big rallies that propelled him to the top of the Republican ticket.

No data for Trump? That’s a big deal! As Chris Cillizza observed:

The worst of Trump’s assertions is that data — and the science that analyzes it to produce targeted messaging and get-out-the-vote operations — isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “I’ve always felt it was overrated,” Trump told the AP. “Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me.”

Hmmm. First of all, I am pretty sure the Obama team didn’t use a “data processing machine.” And the fact that Trump calls it that suggests he has no earthly idea what data mining, microtargeting and the thousands of other ways that data can inform campaign decisions actually are or do.

Even if we give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant a metaphorical machine rather than an actual box into which one pours data, it’s still a telling admission. Trump’s already shown his disdain for most of the tools of modern political organizing and campaigning, and not always to his advantage: his lack of campaign infrastructure and data likely handed Iowa to Cruz, keeping the Texas senator in the race (and attacking Trump) for months. More recently, his campaign blamed a “database error” for their selection of a white supremacist delegate in California. Their processing machine must have broken down!

Numbers aren’t magic, of course, and Cruz’s data-heavy approach only got him so far when paired with a personality few seemed to love. But ignoring the power of data to identify potential supporters and target them with messages they’re likely to respond to? That reeks of political malpractice, and it’s likely to hurt Republicans down-ballot if he’s serious about it.

Democrats and their allies will do everything they can to find their voters and turn them out in November, trust me. If Trump cedes the data battlefield (and the digital fight with it) to his opponents, he may hurt every other Republican on the ballot in 2016. Talk about transforming the party!


Photo: Donald Trump speaking with the media at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona, by Gage Skidmore

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Colin Delany
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