As the election post-mortem continues, President Barack Obama's ground game has emerged as 2012's rising star.
Based on hyper-local organizing tactics, classic advertising methods, and data-driven targeting so specific it rivals the skill of global advertising firms, the campaign helped provide the president an edge in the 2012 election. The campaign even reached out to successful businesses for advice.
“You have the irony here of the Democratic campaign being the efficient metric corporate consultant type campaign listening to advice from business," Politico's Mike Allen commented on Friday's Morning Joe.
Campaign architect Jim Messina explained at a Politico breakfast why it was so different--and successful--for the volunteers and voters:
A friend of mine was in Wisconsin the week before the election and he called me [and said] let me tell you the story about why I think you’re running a smarter campaign. I was told to knock on two doors, one was to chase an absentee ballot and I watched the person fill it out and we mailed it together. The second one was an undecided voter. I was given a very specific persuasion script, had a great conversation, and I’m sure that person is going to vote for us on election day. One block, only two doors. That is using a volunteer’s time more wisely, honoring them, saying to them, every contact you’re going to make is going to matter to us.
Indeed, that's precisely what Obama's ground game was devised to do. Marshall Ganz, the seasoned organizer who built Obama's campaigning system in 2008, told msnbc that putting responsibility into volunteers is key to effective voter outreach.
So I [as an Obama volunteer] become part of a team working with my neighbors to get out the rest of my neighbors and we’re responsible for a certain number of votes. Now we have a chunk of this campaign that we’re responsible for in our community. That’s about as close as you can get to when politics were done on a local level.
The Obama campaign has credited this method with its success at getting voters to the polls. "I think it allowed us to hit more doors and more effective doors than the Romney campaign," Messina said. One example he points to as proof of the ground game's dramatic effect on the election is in Ohio, where a "beauty and barber shop" program registered 200,000 new African-American voters.
The ground game extended far beyond neighborhood blocks, Allen added.
On Facebook, something new they did they called in targeted sharing and what they did there was give you a list of people in your Facebook group that they thought would be Obama friendly if you contacted them and said, click here to send Bob a fact sheet or click here to send Vicky a support the president message. So you were hearing from people who are in your own social network which turned out to be much more effective than even the old style of micro-targeting where you could just reach out to people blindly that you thought probably would bey our voters.
These methods may be dramatic in the political sphere, but it's nothing new to advertisers.
"You know, I talked to a guy that runs a very large global advertising firm last week and he said, you know the most surprising thing to me is that what the Obama campaign did that everybody’s calling revolutionary, is what we’ve been doing at advertising," Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough commented. "It's what big corporations have been doing for years."