I think it is important to draw a distinction between the president's campaign and the entire Democratic Party. The Obama campaign's advantage as an incumbent to build a process that allowed real-time access to, and the ability to act upon, data across the entire campaign provided the framework for greater efficiency than the bootstrapped Romney campaign — but to say that was enjoyed by all Democrats would be misleading at best. I think this cycle, Republican campaigns are ahead of the Democrats in numerous technology capabilities, such as data marketplaces and audience-based targeting capabilities across all screens, but they still lag behind Democrats in some areas like the adoption of a single unified field platform that is easier for folks to conceptually understand. The challenge I see in the "tech advantage" question is that people want the Republican solution to mirror what Democrats are doing and focus on 20 percent of the problem as the comparison instead of recognizing that each have different starting points and realities that they need to address and solve for.
The National Republican Congressional Committee offered an exclusive look at its efforts in the 2014 cycle, which at its core features the ability to track and target a voter not just across all devices, but also across voters’ daily routines. The Democrats’ own operation is churning as well, but it is the Republicans who feel they have more to prove.
The strategy hits voters with an arc, intended to move them from potentially undecided to guaranteed Republican. First, a voter will see a series of persuasion ads, with the substance of the message progressing only after the voter has seen the previous ad in the sequence. Then, the committee moves to its “get out the vote” phase, perhaps urging someone who has not requested a ballot to do so.
The process starts when the committee ships its voter file, full of personal contact and political information, off to LiveRamp, a data computing company in San Francisco. LiveRamp then matches voters with digital identifiers, browser cookies and mobile IDs; strips the identifying information from the file; and ships the list back to the committee.Jon Ward reports at Yahoo that the GOP made a breakthrough in August.
With that, the Republican committee staff can target a unique mobile ID — reaching an individual smartphone or tablet that is, for example, owned by someone over 65 who has requested an absentee ballot and is a registered Republican who has voted in the last three election cycles. The only thing they don’t know, again for reasons of privacy, is the name of the device’s owner.
That’s when Data Trust, the private company that functions as an offshoot of the Republican National Committee, announced that it would begin sharing information from its voter file with i360, the entity created by the Koch brothers to house its own voter file and data analytics tools.
For the first time ever, the two biggest voter-file-gathering operations on the right would be working together. They would remain independent of each other, but benefit from the information-gathering work of each other's volunteers. The data flows would go both ways, and the RNC would for the first time have access to the outside groups' data.
The RNC itself has invested heavily in hiring new data staff to increase its capacity to refresh and enhance voter data, and to improve its modeling of voter universes in key races. RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said that 70 percent of its volunteers are using smartphone apps, not paper, when they knock on doors. In contrast, according to one Democratic data company executive, only about 30 percent of Democratic Party canvassers use smartphone apps rather than paper, in part because the average Republican volunteer has a higher income than the average Democratic volunteer, and is thus more likely to have a smartphone.
Republicans have also made progress in their campaign culture, sources said. The party committees have redrawn their organizational charts and rethought spending decisions in order to place data and technology at the center of their operations. For example, the RNC’s political director, finance director and communications director all outranked the digital director in 2012. Now, the digital director is senior to all three of those positions. DeFeo, the current digital director, is also the RNC deputy chief of staff. Across the country, many GOP campaigns have made the same adjustments, the Republicans who spoke to Yahoo said.At WSJ, Patrick O'Connor reports that the culture shift isn't complete:
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus pleaded with candidates and state and local affiliates to wait before signing contracts with technology firms. But by the time the RNC introduced Mr. Barkett’s new software, Beacon, many campaigns were using other products.
In North Carolina, Senate candidate Thom Tillis is using one tool to target and collect information about voters, while state legislators work from another. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, seeking re-election, built his own voter database. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky uses a product from the firm NationBuilder.
Arkansas Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton and others went with products from i360, owned by Freedom Partners, financed in part by billionaires Charles and David Koch . It has a $50 million-plus budget—three times Data Trust’s—and offers a range of products including access to a team of data scientists who search for trends and effective messages. With elections nearing, a cease-fire of sorts has taken hold. Freedom Partners and Data Trust have plans to share limited amounts of data.
The GOP’s struggles to house all data under one roof may not change the midterms’ outcome, given an environment thought favorable to the party, but could cause headaches in the next presidential race if the party is working from competing data platforms while Democrats rely on a single system.