In the 21st century campaign world, gut instincts are increasingly out of date. Modern advocacy organizations and political campaigns can’t compete effectively unless they structure their outreach campaign to seriously utilize and leverage data analytics. Sasha Issenberg’s book The Victory Lab explains “suddenly the crucial divide within the consulting class is not between Democrats and Republicans or the establishment and outsiders, but between empiricists and the old guard.”
In a truly modern advocacy campaign the “why” is known and leveraged. This is not to say that experienced based strategies should be discarded, but rather they should simply be one hypothesis to be tested against empirical data. Data analytics should continually inform the decision making process in deciding how to allocate precious marketing dollars.
…the crucial divide within the consulting class is not between Democrats and Republicans or the establishment and outsiders, but between empiricists and the old guard. Sasha Issenberg
Ultimately, the goal of data analytics in political organizing is to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of every dollar spent on voter engagement through constant experimentation. And really, what campaign manager or candidate for office wouldn’t want that? Part of the problem is that as the old saying goes, old habits die hard. And in their defense, if experience has given you certain tricks of the trade that have been shown to work in past, how could you be persuaded to do things differently? Another part of the problem is reluctance to admit to the declining impact mass media has on a political campaign. Gone are the days when a consultant could spend a majority of advertising dollars on a TV campaign, pocket 10% of the buy, and call it a day.
In a way, data analytics is bringing political organizing back full circle by making making politics personal again – albeit on a massive scale. The Hillary Clinton analytics operation has been in operation for over a year now and is lead by Elan Kriegel (an analytics director for Obama in 2012). Even the Donald Trump Presidential campaign, notorious for spending little on campaign advertising and calling the use of data “overrated”, has started to spend significant money on a digital operation.
While there is no doubt the Clinton campaign’s head start was enormously valuable, it remains to be seen how either campaign will motivate and turn out voters despite each respective candidates’ historically high unfavorable ratings. With just over 2 months to go till Election Day, we will soon find out.
UPDATE 8/23/2016: Sasha Issenberg is interviewed by the Washington Post and does a fantastic analysis of the differences in mobilization strategies utilized by Clinton and Trump.