Barack Obama – International Man of… Data!

In Data & Analytics, Social media by caitlin


Ever heard of the term "Dreamcatcher"? What about "Narwhal"? The answer is probably no unless you have been hanging out in the dark tech "cave" in the Chicago HQ of the Obama Campaign. Obama's Chief Scientist Rayid Ghani has designed an entire program, with catch phrases and all, to favor the expansion of campaign programming based on data mining, analytics and reporting. This securely protected method has received the ultimate compliment: Obama's Presidential reelection.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two years (seems like much longer than that in reality), you will know that there was a big election this past Tuesday. As the price tags for campaigns at all levels of government continue to increase, candidates and their teams need to revamp their strategies. And thanks to the Obama math-obsessed dream team of Jim Messina, David Axelrod, Rayid Ghani, Harper Reed and Michael Slaby, we have made some progress in that area. The word on all the politicos' lips is DATA.


My personal favorite part of the fundraising portion of the campaign was the dinner party contests. First, the Obama team realized, through data mining of course, there is a large population of female voters on the West coast who love George Clooney. I do not believe the geography is a necessary qualifier, but I digress… Messina and his team designed a donation based contest where the winner dines with the President and Mr. Clooney. It was insanely successful, so they did it again. This time, in an effort to sway East coast voters, they chose Sarah Jessica Parker. Through learning the most they could about potential Obama campaign donors and voters, the team analyzed the data and better engaged with that specific population.

Learning from the 2008 campaign, the Obama organizers also needed to merge their databases as there was little to no coordination between the original campaign systems. In the first 18 months of the 2012 campaign, the team created a single system that merged all information collected from polls, fundraising events, field campaigners and consumer databases – essentially anyone who ever came in contact with the campaign (even if you did just sign the Father's Day card once). Talk about some serious and time consuming data integration! It was well worth it, though, because volunteers all around the country, from Missoula, Montana to Marathon, Florida, could coordinate with HQ volunteers in Chicago to organize phone calls and get out the vote.

On top of the successful analytical minds of Obama strategists, we have been introduced to Nate Silver, the 2nd biggest celebrity of the week. Silver accurately predicted the winner of the Presidential election in all 50 U.S. states, plus D.C. Additionally, he almost hit every senate race, only missing North Dakota. Technically an unbiased news source, Silver has become an overnight celebrity due to his unprecedented ability to make political predictions using his own data analytics.

What did we learn here? Data isn't just for “techies” and nerds. Data is for politics. Data is for corporate, for non-profit, for public sector. The data is bigger than ever and there are so many possibilities… and challenges. What are the first steps in wading through the murky data waters? I vote we ask Nate… what party do you support?


In case you were wondering, Dreamcatcher is the Obama specific effort to effectively mine online data and Narwhal is the campaign's plan to combine voter info into an easily cross-referenced database.