Social Data and the 2012 Election

A data-driven grassroots strategy driven by Facebook may prove a huge difference-maker in the 2012 election, just as a similar strategy quietly helped generate widespread support for then-candidate Obama in 2008.  With the social intelligence afforded by social media sites like Facebook, a campaign can effectively mobilize volunteers to maximize their canvassing, be it phone calls or door-to-door campaigning.

“On the micro scale, any campaign volunteer or staffer with Facebook on their phone is carrying around a treasure trove of data about their contacts: Almost all of their friends, how often they talk online, what they talk about, even when they go to the same events,” writes Personal Democracy Forum’s Nick Judd on the techPresident blog.  Part of the effectiveness of such a strategy is that potential voters are not contacted by the candidates or unknown campaign staff, but by their own friends who are politically active and speaking on behalf of the candidate.

“It marks the early appearance in the field of a new strategy — merging campaign data with the data each supporter keeps about their contacts, stored away in places like Facebook profiles — that I expect we’ll be seeing more of in the future,” Judd continues.

So far, no candidate has been able to capitalize on this like President Obama.  With this, his second election cycle leveraging the possibilities of data mining as a way to activate voters (and donors), President Obama is miles ahead of his challengers.

“Obama may be struggling in the polls and even losing support among his core boosters, but when it comes to the modern mechanics of identifying, connecting with and mobilizing voters, as well as the challenge of integrating voter information with the complex internal workings of a national campaign, his team is way ahead of the Republican pack,” writes Personal Democracy Co-founder Micah Sifry for CNN.

The Obama campaign is also harnessing the power of private social networks to connect volunteers and campaign staff and allow higher-level managers to monitor progress against goals and get a broad picture of on-the-ground efforts on NationalField (which started with the Obama 2008 campaign).  Volunteers can share what they’re doing — hard data and qualitative observations can be reported for a comprehensive portrayal of what is really going on — and the hierarchical structure of the network allows information to be filtered based on staff seniority.

“While the Republican field (and bloggers and the press) has been focused on how their candidates are doing with social networking, Obama’s campaign operatives are devising a new kind of social intelligence that will help drive campaign resources where they are most needed,” Sifry writes.

Regardless of what social media platforms campaigns employ (or don’t), data harmonization and the ability to leverage personal relationships are among the most basic — but most often overlooked — principles of any campaign, and will be crucial to a candidate’s success.  Efficient data management ensures that all operations of a campaign are interacting and aware of the others’ efforts.

“If the 2012 election comes down to a battle of inches, where a few percentage points change in turnout in a few key states making all the difference, we may come to see Obama’s investment in predictive modelers and data scientists as the key to victory,” Sifry concludes.

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