Hillary Clinton Joins the Battle over Democratic Data

Hillary Clinton on her phone

When Hillary Clinton took the stage yesterday at a Recode conference, she also took the opportunity to blame DNC data for her loss last year, as Aaron Blake reports in the Post:

I set up my campaign and we have our own data operation. I get the nomination. So I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party,” Clinton said, according to a transcript. “I mean it was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it — the DNC — to keep it going.”

THAT went over well:

A top former DNC aide tweeted overnight that Clinton’s allegations were “f—ing bulls—” and even suggested that the Clinton campaign ignored its warnings about how competitive Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were.

Former DNC data science director Andrew Therriault went on to push back in a series of tweets he’s since deleted but that Blake has preserved. The gist: the DNC’s data wasn’t at fault, and the Clinton campaign ignored what it was telling them. As he put it, “they thought they knew better” than data models that showed states like Michigan and Wisconsin in danger. Shades of that that post-election Politico story claiming that her team ignored urgent warnings from people on the ground in Michigan!

As Blake reports, TargetSmart’s Tom Bonior also noted that Clinton’s campaign used their data through the primary without a hitch (besides that little issue late in 2016), and that she’d inherited data people that he considers some of the best in the business. Others experienced with Democratic data backed him up.

To me, this sounds like a classic question of Garbage In, Garbage Out. In MANY ways, the Clinton team seems to have created a vision of reality fundamentally at odds with what was actually happening, and they either ignored contrary data or shaped it to fit that narrative. Of course, I wasn’t in the room any more than (most of) you were, and it’s always possible that something went wrong with the ones and zeroes. If so, though, wouldn’t Democrats across the country have encountered the same problem? Did they?

Naturally, people who’d like to break in on the near-monopoly on DNC data held by companies like TargetSmart (which builds the data) and NGPVAN (which provides the tools to manipulate it) will seize on this moment. In fact, a friend sent over an email earlier today from a group calling itself Unlock The VAN, which includes NationBuilder in its coalition…a company that appears to have let a national voter file get online late in 2015.

I understand Clinton’s desire to find something — ANYTHING! — to attribute her loss to, other than her own decisions. But the buck doesn’t stop with data: it stops at the top. And plenty of Democrats think that’s where the problems that doomed her campaign began, too.


Written by
Colin Delany
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