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The 2012 Vote

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Obama Campaign Kick-Starts Unprecedented Data Mining Campaign

June 10th 2012

Barack Blackberry Obama

Barack Obama’s re-election campaign will set a new standard for social media usage and technology, even after it raised the bar for the political use of data mining and networking during his 2008 campaign. According to a June 9 report in Politico, Obama’s political headquarters in Chicago has brought in 150 technicians to strip as much of voters’ personal information that they can from social media and other websites. Surpassing any kind of similar research seen before in American politics, "They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election," the report said. Obama’s techies are seeking to mine every bit of data available about voters in an effort to get their Blackberry-wielding leader a secure seat in the White House.

The Obama campaign believes its technological advantage will make the difference in November. According to Politico, a number of experts agree. Technology strategist Andrew Rasiej, who publishes TechPresident, said "It’s all about the data this year and Obama has that. When a race is as close as this one promises to be, any small advantage could absolutely make the difference." Continuing in thie vein, Rasiej said, "More and more accurate data means more insight, more money, more message distribution, and more votes." Harvard professor Nicco Mele, who follows social media, nods in agreement, “The fabric of our public and political space is shifting. If the Obama campaign can combine its data efforts with the way people now live their lives online, a new kind of political engagement — and political persuasion — is possible.”

The campaign engaged by presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney does use similar technology, but apparently with much less acumen. The Obama campaign is "way ahead of Romney micro-targeting and it’s a level of precision we haven’t seen before," Darrell M. West, who follows technology innovation for the Brookings Institution. Romney campaign has not been as focused on building its data mining and technology platform because of uncertainty over a nomination for Romney.

However, now that a nomination is almost certain, Romney's campaign will  outsource much of its data management to build customized solutions.  “As a campaign we would not presume to know more than the collective intelligence and resources of the marketplace," said Romney digital director Zac Moffatt. "In the end, what is most important is not how many people on any list or how many followers we have — but their engagement level. And our followers are engaged," he said.

Obama campaign, however, is thoroughly engaged with computer technology and social media trolling to increase its chances as Obama as president faces significant uncertainties in the national economy and overseas challenges such as unrest in Syria and Eurozone economic upheaval. The Obama campaign’s latest innovation is its “Dashboard”, a favorite term for techie management types. For the campaign, this translates as a sophisticated and interactive platform that gives supporters a plan for organizing, and communicating with each other and the campaign. By using Facebook and other online resources, the Obama campaign is stockpiling a data base of information to identify voters and patterns. This data mining allows campaign strategists to tailor precisely their messages to voters according to age, interests and socio-economic level.

This data mining technology allows the Obama campaign to micro-target voters and solicit micro-dollar solicitations that ultimately mean big money. In 2008, the Obama campaign swept the floor with the McCain campaign’s flat-footed approach to technology, raising hundreds of millions of dollars from many small donors. This time around, emails from Michelle Obama asking ‘Are you in?’ also ask for $3 donations from supporters in exchange for a chance to dine with the Obama and celebrities such as George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Anna Wintour. Through constant experimentation, testing and innovation, the Obama campaign gathers priceless information about voters and donors while expanding its donor base.

As Americans’ habits change, the Obama campaign appears to be up to the challenge to continuously engage them with new media schemes. For example, research conducted by Michigan State University shows that even while they are on summer vacation, American consumers do not take a vacation from social media. A recent study showed that wireless internet use by Americans on vacation is actually greater than at home.  “Travelers are using their laptops and phones more often, and not just to plan vacations,” MSU professor Christine Vogt said. “Since Wi-Fi is available at most destinations, tourists are checking local weather forecasts, transportation schedules, restaurant recommendations, fishing reports, safe bicycling routes and much more.”

Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.


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