President Obama's national campaigns benefited from all kinds of advantages -- including the quality of the candidate himself -- but one of the most important and revolutionary tools was Team Obama's data team. Never before has a campaign operation used data so effectively to target voters, raise money, mobilize supporters, and gauge public attitudes.
No one on Obama's data team became a household name, but in the world of analytics and data management, these folks not only became sought-after stars, they were also responsible for creating a new industry, effectively from scratch. After seeing what was possible in Obama's operation, parties, candidates, campaign committees, and related national entities starting looking at the importance of data in a whole new way.
Even the much derided RNC "Growth and Opportunity Project" -- generally known as the Republicans' post-2012 autopsy -- specifically said the RNC needed to be "more sophisticated in how we employ data across all campaign and Party functions."
As it turns out, the Republicans' 2016 nominee disagrees. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
Donald Trump, GOP nomination virtually in hand, is planning a general election campaign that banks heavily on his personal appeal and trademark rallies while spurning the kind of sophisticated data operation that was a centerpiece of Barack Obama's winning White House runs."I've always felt it was overrated," Trump said in an interview Tuesday. "Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me." [...] The businessman said he'll spend "limited" money on data operations to identify and track potential voters and to model various turnout scenarios that could give him the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
Democrats couldn't have been more pleased. Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster, noted yesterday how happy he was to "wake up and read that the GOP is unilaterally disarming itself from the political data wars."
New York's Ed Kilgore joked this morning, "You can almost hear Trump taunt data geeks as bozos whose computers (or 'data-processing machines' as he called them in the interview mocking the idea) are loaded with nothing but video games."
A key element of the problem here is the simple fact Trump is an amateur whose team has been slow to get up to speed. In so many areas -- policy research, fundraising, field operations -- Team Trump never really figured out what it was doing during the GOP primaries, and even at this stage, it still appears lost when addressing the basics of overseeing a modern, national operation.
With this in mind, it's quite easy to imagine Trump and his top lieutenants asking aloud, "What's data analytics and why should we care?"
As for Obama's old data team, many of them have already found a lucrative 2016 gig: Hillary Clinton hired them.