The Analytics Election

Big Data Drove Obama’s Victory

  • The Obama Campaign’s data-mining capabilities allowed them to buy television advertising “14% more efficiently … to make sure we were talking to our persuadable voters.”
Photo of Barack Obama On Election Night, November 7, 2012

Photo courtesy Barack Obama on Flickr.

THOUGHT: The old adage has it that 50% of my television ad budget is wasted…I just don’t know which 50%.

If you’re compiling huge sets of data into one massive database and then mining that data for insights, at the very least you’ll likely be able to save yourself some money by making smarter decisions.

Despite what many are saying, this wasn’t the Social Media Election–that was last cycle. And it wasn’t the Mobile Election–that, too, was last cycle. This was the Analytics Election.

Let’s step back and take a look at how we got to this point:

In 1994, in my beloved home state state of Minnesota, the first-ever online political debate between statewide office-seekers was held among our gubernatorial candidates via e-Democracy. News of that debate sparked my fascination with online publishing.

In 1996, the Clinton presidential campaign started implementing the first database to help them conduct what is now known as micro-targeting but because Clinton had such a comfortable lead throughout the race, it was never really put to use.

In 1998, again in Minnesota, third party gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura’s campaign made extensive use of their email list for organizing and fundraising and used their horribly-designed website to update with photos along the campaign trail to draw voters into the campaign. Ventura, as you know, was elected governor.

In 2000, the George W. Bush campaign developed and did use a database to identify likely Republican voters they could target within Democratic strongholds, making their Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts that much more efficient and cost effective.

In 2004, Vermont governor Howard Dean surged ahead in popularity during the Democratic primaries largely through the strength of his campaign’s use of for organizing and his pioneering online fundraising. Ironically, it was a “viral video,” the Dean Scream, that did him in before YouTube was even launched.

In 2008, Barack Obama harnessed the infrastructure of the Internet to re-write the book on online political fundraising and organizing, incorporating social media and mobile into a mix that would result in his historic election.

This cycle, Obama’s team consolidated all their data, mined it for insights, pumped those insights back into the database (such as which campaign combinations of email metrics worked best for fundraising or what celebrities had the greatest fundraising appeal among specific demographics), and mined that data again.

You want ROI?

Team Obama cracked the toughest of nuts yet again this cycle: They influenced actual people to take specific action in the real world

MySpace Presidential Primary

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