Trump’s answer on data is actually the right answer

Donald Trump says his Presidential campaign will be about personality, not data:

In his AP interview, Trump discounted the value of data: The “candidate is by far the most important thing,” he said. He said he plans a “limited” use of data in his general election campaign and suggested Obama’s victories — universally viewed by political professionals as groundbreaking in the way data steered the campaign to voters — are misunderstood.

“Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine, and I think the same is true with me,” Trump said, explaining that he will continue to focus on his signature rallies, free television exposure and his personal social media accounts to win voters over.

That’s exactly the wrong answer on an 8:00 a.m. conference call, but it’s exactly the right answer for an interview – which is something many political professionals miss. In the quest to sound smart to industry press, operatives can fall into the trap of talking too much about process. But voters don’t care.

Yes, the data-driven campaigns President Barack Obama ran in 2008 and 2012 were groundbreaking. But people voted for Obama’s message. The data elements helped them vote, but they made the choice, ultimately, based on the message.

In this cycle, polarizing figures with limited crossover appeal lead both major parties. Both presumptive nominees face divisions within their parties. Voter turnout could suffer, which could make the ground game vital. If the race is close, it will likely be the campaign with the better turnout operation that comes out ahead.

But a candidate has three jobs: 1) Ask for votes; 2) Ask for money; 3) Don’t mess up. Chatting about campaign tactics is not on the list.

Maybe Trump has a basement full of nerds chained to computers analyzing data sets to develop the winning turnout plan. Even if he does, it wouldn’t help him to brag about it. Even if the Trump campaign proved to be the most sophisticated data operation in the history of ones and zeros, it would only serve to amplify his message.

Campaign tactics may drive votes, but personality wins voters.

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Crummy Little Podcast Episode 3: Todd Van Etten

There aren’t many people who can keep up with the ever-evolving intersection between technology and politics. Todd Van Etten, Chief Digital Strategist for The Herald Group, is one of them, and he does it well. He’s this week’s guest on the Crummy Little Podcast, chatting about online politics and advocacy.

You can download/listen here or through iTunes.

Birthday Ramen!

Did you know that today is Momofuku Ando’s birthday? He’s the guy who invented instant ramen, and he would be 105 if he was alive today. You might have learned all this if you’d clicked on the Google doodle that most people saw today:

AndoDoodle

I didn’t see that.  Since I share Momofuku’s birthday, I saw this:

MyDoodle

The alt text – “Happy Birthday, Jim!” – confirmed that this was for me. It’s no mystery how Google found out – I’ve probably volunteered the information dozens of times given all the Google products I use. It was still the creepiest happy birthday I got today.

Hillary Clinton will not be your next President

Way back in the day, then-candidate Barack Obama got a really flattering picture in the paper. Actually, it was the New York Times, and actually it looked like a leaked still from an Airwolf reboot.

When I first saw that picture, I believed that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. While that picture always stood out in my mind, just about everyone I knew who paid attention to the campaign that year had a similar moment of clarity where they believed Obama would beat John McCain.

It comes to mind now because, a couple weeks back, this horrible video started making the rounds on YouTube:

Someone thought this was a good idea. It’s not simple to put this together – someone wrote the song, hired a band, scripted the video, and apparently wanted to make something that promoted Hillary Clinton while looking like the result of a drunken one-night stand between crappy pop-country and a third quarter earnings presentation. (“Hi, Rascal Flats? It’s PowerPoint. …Yes, I had a fun night, too, but… Well, we need to talk. I’m pregnant.”) It took work and effort, which means someone actually thought about this a lot. And it still got made, incredibly.

The imagery, from the shattered glass ceiling to the man getting on a motorcycle behind a lady is heavy-handed and condescending. And it shamelessly panders to middle Americans, who may love country music but probably recognize when a former Senator from New York is trying too hard.

Oversimplified, poorly conceived messages delivered with insincerity are nothing new to Clinton’s public appearances this year, from the time she started promoting her book to now. This video subtly underscores every negative she currently has. Clinton’s country music video projects someone going through the motions of a campaign as a formality before a Presidency she feels she is owed.

Is it any wonder why the jibber-jabber around Elizabeth Warren as a potential primary challenger has warmed so significantly in the weeks since this video came out?

The political “digital divide” is closing – but not because of this

Politico pointed out that Republicans lead Democrats in viral videos this election cycle:

By generating hundreds of thousands of clicks, the Republicans’ digital success represents a remarkable tech turnaround compared with 2012, when President Barack Obama’s campaign easily outpaced Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field in the production of the most popular Web content.

That’s right and wrong at the same time, which is really tough to do.

A higher click total is not a sign of better use of technology, but a sign of better use of message. The article goes on to talk about why the Republican message has been so video-friendly, which underscores the point.

The technology to make an online video is pretty simple, any yahoo with a Mac can make something that looks pretty decent. Clicks come from content – what the video says is more important than Politico lets on.

If you want to know why Republicans have closed in on the Democrats’ tech advantage, look at the actual technology and how it’s being used. For example, i360, a data firm that caters to conservative movement organizations, and DataTrust, the data wing of the GOP, are sharing their voter data. If one of those companies found out that you’re an independent and the other one knows you’re left handed, campaigns would have access to both tags and could use both to shape how they talk to you. That’s a legit tech upgrade over the sloppy, fractured Republican data infrastructure of the past.

Project Ivy and digital coat tails

Over at Communities Digital News, I have a new piece up about Project Ivy – the Democrats’ plan to deploy the digital tools that helped President Obama in 2012 and Terry McAuliffe in 2013 into down ballot races in 2014:

The data tools used this year may not help Democrats keep their hold on the Senate, or win more Governorships, or even gain ground in state legislative chambers. But all the data collected with those tools in 2014 will be mighty useful when a few hundred votes in Cuyahoga County could decide the White House in two short years.

Republicans may not need to match Democrats data point for data point to have a pretty good election cycle in 2014. But deploying their own tools with the future in mind will help build their abilities for coming cycles. 

You want more?  Here it is.

Democrats know they are facing an against-the-spread election this November. They’ll lose seats, but the question is how many. Dropping as many as five Senate seats to the GOP will look like a win if they maintain a voting majority for the next term.  And like a baseball team playing out the string with a 40-man roster in September, minor league talent in down-ballot races can help set the table for future victories.  Project Ivy isn’t really for 2014, it’s for 2016.

But if I bled Democrat blue there would be one major factor that rubs me the wrong way about Project Ivy: the name.

First off, ivy grows up, while the project takes high-level tactics and tries to push them down.  Maybe that strategy makes sense for Democrats, who put so much faith in federal government programs to cure the ills of small communities, but the metaphor is a bit off.

Second, remember Project ORCA? It was the widely panned GOTV app that Team Romney deployed in 2012, and was so named because the Obama team’s data processing system was nicknamed “Narwhal,” and orcas kill narwhals.  As it turned out, the narwhal was an octopus with tentacles everywhere, and orcas don’t do crap against octopi.  This metaphor is getting even more tortured, so let’s move to the point: A clever name often foreshadows failure.  The only political tactical operations with cool names that work are the ones you hear about after the election.

The best news for the GOP about Project Ivy might be the fact that the first news stories about it are in March 2014, and not the week after Election Day.

Apple’s ad won the Holidays

It’s too bad that Apple’s “Misunderstood” commercial probably won’t end up being replayed every single year, the way the spots touting Hershey Kisses and M&M’s do. It was the best commercial of this holiday season, and it looks like Apple spent lots of time looking at Google’s advertising handiwork.

The ad features a seemingly self-absorbed kid spending the holidays messing with his phone, only to reveal that he’s been carefully crafting a video memory for everyone.  The message is self-serving: that technology which isolates us actually brings us together.  But it’s well done, and who doesn’t have some nostalgia for big family get-togethers?

Best of all, without a word of dialogue, it tells a story.  You know this family loves and cherishes each other. From the joy of the first greeting to the ice skating and sledding to the grandmother’s wistful tears on Christmas morning, they enjoy each other’s company.  They’ll treasure the memories when they look back on this video.  And, of course, Apple hopes you’ll look at it and remember the idealized Christmases of your youth, tugging at your heartstrings the way “A Christmas Story” reminds you of that toy you wanted.   Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhwhnEe7CjE