In the past, most of the focus on what makes a good politician has come down to two things: how personable they are and if they can connect with voters. When those things are combined with a governing philosophy that is compatible with the people in their district, you have a guaranteed win. Of course, this assumes that there aren’t any October surprises that trip the politician up.
It is still important to connect and be personal. However, as evidenced by political campaigns since 2008, it is even more important to have a campaign that can mine and use all the data they have. I first saw this back in 2004. At the time, Fox News was using Larry Sabato to show what was happening in Missouri on a county-by-county basis. This kind of detail fascinated me. It was the first time that someone had come in and shown that level of detail about an election. Based on what I was seeing, I could actually forecast the winner of the election based on the returns and what was missing.
Fast forward to 2008 and the data revolution had gone further. The website FiveThirtyEight was able to successfully forecast the winner of an election based on data analysis of national and state polls. There were attempts to say how Nate Silver’s crew were wrong because of his partisan slant, but those criticisms were wrong. His model was proven and winning elections became more about getting your base out and suppressing your opponent’s base. More than ever before, turnout wins elections. In the 2014 elections, even though they didn’t call Virginia on any of the networks, you could see that Ed Gillespie would lose. This was because the Virginia counties that hadn’t fully counted their votes were pro-Gillespie, but they didn’t have enough available votes to allow him to win.
When Doug Owens came within 3 points of beating Mia Love, it drove home this point further. Owens didn’t have the bipartisan record nor the history of representing Utah well like Jim Matheson did. Even with that, as Robert Gehrke pointed out on Twitter, the numbers should have been much worse for Owens – he should have been hammered.
— RobertGehrke (@RobertGehrke) November 5, 2014
How did Owens get so close to Love? How can future candidates change the equation, even when the odds are stacked against them? The answer comes back to Big Data. If you are running a professional campaign, you have to have somebody who can take all of the data that you have access to and mine that information to create a campaign that is more local than ever before. This can include historical voting patterns by precinct, people who have donated to relevant political causes, political influencers, and so on.
By utilizing, sorting, and mining this information, a campaign can organize get out the vote efforts on a hyper-local level. If you see that Republicans typically get 700 out of 1000 votes in Precinct 12 (among 2000 voters), but only 400 of 1000 votes in Precinct 13 (out of the same 2000 voters), you can use your limited ground troops in Precinct 12. You can also avoid Precinct 13 as a focus area. This gives you two advantages: it raises turnout (and your votes) in 12 while decreasing turnout (and your opponent’s votes) in 13.
This information can also allow you to microtarget your advertising. Google and satellite providers can already do this based on the history of what you’ve watched or viewed online. You don’t need to blow $10,000 flooding the entire state with a single ad. It is far more effective to spend $100 targeting the voters in a single precinct.
You can target one precinct with an ad that talks about how strong you are on crime. You can have voters in the next precinct see an ad about how your opponent wants to split up families. This kind of targeting can make campaigns extremely efficient because they aren’t trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, they are directing the right message at the right people at the right time.
Bringing this back around, if Mia Love’s campaign didn’t spend its unlimited budget on big media buys, mailers, and other old-school techniques, she could have performed much better than she did. The battleground in the future won’t be won by who gets their name out there the most, but by who gets their name out there the most effectively.