The Paine of Measurement
A flood of cash began to pour into politics within months of the January 2010 Citizen's United decision. More than $6 billion was spent on the recent presidential and congressional races. But I would argue that never has so much money been spent for so little result. And it wasn’t just one presidential candidate that lost; the vast majority of candidates targeted by the super PACs lost as well.
My favorite quote was from one pundit who said, “If I were Sheldon Adelson, I’d be on the phone asking for my money back.”
Regardless of who or what was to blame for the election results, there is a measurement lesson in all of this.
First let's look at some basic math:
- Cost per vote won: Romney: $17, Obama: $15
- Cost per electoral vote won: Romney: $4,991,326, Obama: $2,807,269
Clearly, the Obama campaign spent its money more efficiently, and I argue that it was its use of data that made the difference. The team at Obama’s Cave made the most sophisticated use of data analysis in political history, and it probably will change the nature of campaigns for ever.
Here’s the synopsis. Despite getting kudos for its ground game in 2008, Team Obama realized how weak their database system was, so they overhauled it, bringing all their data into one giant database. They enabled volunteers to access that database from their homes, so if they couldn’t make it into a local office, they could still help out from home. I myself used the database as a volunteer and I have to say it was both accurate and helpful, if not perfect.
But it was how the data scientists back at the Cave used it that was far more interesting. Employing techniques familiar to supermarket marketing they tested appeals, tweaked messages, and adjusted tactics depending on what the data told them. Wondering why George Clooney and Sara Jessica Parker were the celebrities chosen to help with fundraising? That’s who the data told them would work best. (Read this article at ProPublica and this article in TIME for more on Obama's data tactics.)
In the meantime, Team Romney’s “Orca” database was providing very different information. Combined with the old assumption that with enough money you could buy enough eyeballs to win, that information lead them to make very different choices. The fact that Orca crashed on Election Day provides another lesson to be learned: Make sure your tools work when you need them to.
I saw this firsthand at the polls on Nov 6th. I spent 13 hours at Oyster River High School in Durham, New Hampshire, talking to voters and thanking them for coming out to vote. I watched busload after busload of new voters arrive from the campus of UNH.
The Romney supporters standing a few feet away could be heard dismissing the busses as "a waste of money. " Sure, they were rumored to cost $25,000 a day. But in fact, those students contributed to the victory of not just Barack Obama, but also to 1st Congressional District candidate Carol Shea-Porter, who surprised everyone by winning back her congressional seat from Frank Guinta.
Even more interesting was the campaign's use of social media in the mix. From my vantage point, it was clear that whenever a student emerged from the polling place, they immediately checked in on Foursquare, earning points for voting and telling their friends to vote. What I realized was that Team Obama had game-ified the Get Out the Vote effort.
This wasn't just a good ground game. This was an organization that took the concept of data-informed to a whole new level.
So, in your own organization, next time you don't have the budget you'd like to have, or are being outspent by the competition, take a data-driven approach. Look at past results and dig into last year's campaign data to understand what works and what doesn't work. And, if you don't have the data, start collecting it now.
(Thanks to Co.CREATE for the illustration.)
Katie Delahaye Paine is Chairman, KDPaine & Partners, (a Salience Insight company), and Chief Marketing Officer of News Group International. KDP&P delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements. Katie and Beth Kanter are authors of the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” to be published this year by Wiley.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.