Obama’s data mining

Yesterday we posted about mining “big data,” how corporations, politicians, and researchers are delving into Twitter, Google,  Facebook, and other online information to forecast trends, target customers, and gain various competitive advantages.  Well, it turns out that the Obama campaign is mining such data on voters on a massive, unprecedented scale.  Politico’s Lois Romano reports:

On the sixth floor of a sleek office building here, more than 150 techies are quietly peeling back the layers of your life. 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 depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation — from data mining to online organizing — reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever seen, experts maintain, that it could impact the outcome of a close presidential election. It makes the president’s much-heralded 2008 social media juggernaut — which raised half billion dollars and revolutionized politics — look like cavemen with stone tablets.

Mitt Romney indeed is ramping up his digital effort after a debilitating primary and, for sure, the notion that Democrats have a monopoly on cutting edge technology no longer holds water.

But it’s also not at all clear that Romney can come close to achieving the same level of technological sophistication and reach as his opponent. (The campaign was mercilessly ridiculed last month when it rolled out a new App misspelling America.)

“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,” says Andrew Rasiej, a technology strategist and publisher of TechPresident. “More and more accurate data means more insight, more money, more message distribution, and more votes.”

Adds Nicco Mele, a Harvard professor and social media guru: “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.”

Launched two weeks ago, Obama’s newest innovation is the much anticipated “Dashboard” , a sophisticated and highly interactive platform that gives supporters a blueprint for organizing, and communicating with each other and the campaign.

In addition, by harnessing the growing power of Facebook and other online sources, the campaign is building what some see as an unprecedented data base to develop highly specific profiles of potential voters. This allows the campaign to tailor messages directly to them — depending on factors such as socio-economic level, age and interests.

The data also allows the campaign to micro-target a range of dollar solicitations online depending on the recipient. In 2008, the campaign was the first to maximize online giving — raising hundreds of millions of dollars from small donors. This time, they are constantly experimenting and testing to expand the donor base.

via Obama’s data advantage – Lois Romano – POLITICO.com.

Do you think all of this data the president’s campaign is collecting is a game changer or ultimately trivial?  Does gathering so much information about you for political purposes bother you?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • WebMonk

    Huh, I figured this stuff was normal for the last two presidential cycles. The biggest shock for me is that they are just now getting around to doing this.

    Game changer – no. It’s the first time it’s been done in a large way in a Presidential election (if the article is accurate – always doubtful), so in that way it’s a new thing, but does it fundamentally change anything? No. It’s a new technique for accomplishing the exact same stuff they were doing before – community election drives, target populations, etc.

    It used to be done with polls and census data. Now it’s done with accumulated social media and advertising data.

    Like I said, the only shock for me is that it has taken them this long to get around to doing it.

    (oh, and that first paragraph of the story – wild exaggeration almost to the point of outright fabrication)

  • WebMonk

    Huh, I figured this stuff was normal for the last two presidential cycles. The biggest shock for me is that they are just now getting around to doing this.

    Game changer – no. It’s the first time it’s been done in a large way in a Presidential election (if the article is accurate – always doubtful), so in that way it’s a new thing, but does it fundamentally change anything? No. It’s a new technique for accomplishing the exact same stuff they were doing before – community election drives, target populations, etc.

    It used to be done with polls and census data. Now it’s done with accumulated social media and advertising data.

    Like I said, the only shock for me is that it has taken them this long to get around to doing it.

    (oh, and that first paragraph of the story – wild exaggeration almost to the point of outright fabrication)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I don’t think this is a game changer, nor is it alarming. It is to be expected, given the technology that exists.

    Further, having a vast knowledge of what people are thinking, and changing their minds about what they’re thinking are two different things.

    For the latter, you need more sophisticated propaganda techniques….

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I don’t think this is a game changer, nor is it alarming. It is to be expected, given the technology that exists.

    Further, having a vast knowledge of what people are thinking, and changing their minds about what they’re thinking are two different things.

    For the latter, you need more sophisticated propaganda techniques….

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    The problem with data mining has always been analysis. My dad who worked with Military Intelligence noted that it wasn’t so much a lack of information as it was trying to figure out which item was a diamond and which was cubic zircon. So they can mine all they want and still draw the wrong conclusion.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    The problem with data mining has always been analysis. My dad who worked with Military Intelligence noted that it wasn’t so much a lack of information as it was trying to figure out which item was a diamond and which was cubic zircon. So they can mine all they want and still draw the wrong conclusion.

  • DonS

    I no longer believe that this will be a particularly close election, so this operation will not be that helpful to Obama. This stuff only works if your message is resonating, and it is simply a matter of ensuring that it is reaching the right demographic.

  • DonS

    I no longer believe that this will be a particularly close election, so this operation will not be that helpful to Obama. This stuff only works if your message is resonating, and it is simply a matter of ensuring that it is reaching the right demographic.

  • WebMonk

    ML21 – that is indeed the big problem. For a couple million dollars you can plug into the Twitter firehose, but determining the actionable information in there is the problem that is getting hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at it. (using Twitter as an example for SM in general)

    Commercial companies have it relatively easy in that they can use trend information easily. Political and security entities have the far harder job of finding specifics.

  • WebMonk

    ML21 – that is indeed the big problem. For a couple million dollars you can plug into the Twitter firehose, but determining the actionable information in there is the problem that is getting hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at it. (using Twitter as an example for SM in general)

    Commercial companies have it relatively easy in that they can use trend information easily. Political and security entities have the far harder job of finding specifics.

  • PinonCoffee

    @#2 – Yes. President Obama can know as much about me as he likes, but his campaign has one problem: we already know about him!

  • PinonCoffee

    @#2 – Yes. President Obama can know as much about me as he likes, but his campaign has one problem: we already know about him!


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