Team Romney used a program called 'Orca' to help win this past election, while Team Obama used microtargeting techniques. I am fascinated by back story of this past election. The day after the election reporters talked about how Team Obama microtarget voters during election; I wanted to learn more. Also, I wanted to know what technique Team Romney used, and as it turned out it was a disaster. I'm going start with Team Romney first because I want save the best for last.
Orca was developed by Team Romney to help analyze polling location and help campaign direct 'get out the vote' in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Colorado. There were many problems with Orca:
It was supposed to be a "killer app," but a system deployed to volunteers by Mitt Romney's presidential campaign may have done more harm to Romney's chances on Election Day—largely because of a failure to follow basic best practices for IT projects.
Instead, volunteers couldn't get the system to work from the field in many states—in some cases because they had been given the wrong login information. The system crashed repeatedly. At one point, the network connection to the Romney campaign's headquarters went down because Internet provider Comcast reportedly thought the traffic was caused by a denial of service attack. As one Orca user described it to Ars, the entire episode was a "huge clusterfuck."Ocra in the wild is one of nature deadliest killer. So, the plan by Romney's top 2 voting directors: Dan Centinello and Rich Beeson. Team Romney's Orca was going to kill Dems' voter turnout. That was the plan. Hehe, since I know the outcome. Here is the plan, which sounds better on paper:
To build Orca, the Romney campaign turned to Microsoft and an unnamed application consulting firm. The goal was to put a mobile application in the hands of 37,000 volunteers in swing states, who would station themselves at the polls and track the arrival of known Romney supporters. The information would be monitored by more than 800 volunteers back at Romney's Boston Garden campaign headquarters via a Web-based management console, and it would be used to push out more calls throughout the day to pro-Romney voters who hadn't yet shown up at the polls. A backup voice response system would allow local poll volunteers to call in information from the field if they couldn't access the Web.
But Orca turned out to be toothless, thanks to a series of deployment blunders and network and system failures. While the system was stress-tested using automated testing tools, users received little or no advance training on the system. Crucially, there was no dry run to test how Orca would perform over the public Internet.Team Romney literally couldn't log on into Orca because of bad password, also the system kept crashing:
Part of the issue was Orca's architecture. While 11 backend database servers had been provisioned for the system—probably running on virtual machines—the "mobile" piece of Orca was a Web application supported by a single Web server and a single application server. Rather than a set of servers in the cloud, "I believe all the servers were in Boston at the Garden or a data center nearby," wrote Hans Dittuobo, a Romney volunteer at Boston Garden, to Ars by e-mail.
Throughout the day, the Orca Web page was repeatedly inaccessible. It remains unclear whether the issue was server load or a lack of available bandwidth, but the result was the same: Orca had not been tested under real-world conditions and repeatedly failed when it was needed the most.
And for many of those who managed to get to their polling places and who called up the website on their phones, there was another, insurmountable hurdle—their passwords didn't work and attempts to reset passwords through the site also failed. As for the voice-powered backup system, it failed too as many poll watchers received the wrong personal identification numbers needed to access the system. Joel Pollak of Briebart reported that hundreds of volunteers in Colorado and North Carolina couldn't use either the Web-based or the voice-based Orca systems; it wasn't until 6:00 PM on Election Day that the team running Orca admitted they had issued the wrong PIN codes and passwords to everyone in those states, and they reset them. Even then, some volunteers still couldn’t login.The final result was failure:
In Boston, things weren't much better. Some of the VoIP phones set up for volunteers were misconfigured. And as volunteers tried to help people in the field get into the system, they ran into similar problems themselves. "I tried to login to the field website," Dittuobo told me, "but none of the user names and passwords worked, though the person next to me could get in. We had zero access to Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Seems like the only state that was working was Florida
"The end result," Ekdahl wrote, "was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that."Microtargeting was something perfected by Team Obama. Imagine a room full of Nate Silvers. Team Obama had a room called 'The Cave' where analysts, software techs, mathematicians(created models), digital specialist. Peggy Noonan said before the election because she sees more Romney/Ryan yard signs, there are a lot people at Romney's rallies and it feels like momentum for Gov Romney. Well, Mrs Noonan the days of measuring who is winning by counting yard signs are over.
So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.
This is important: unlike Team Romney, the Obama team did not outsource their media buying to a consulting firm. The Obama team weren't buying heavy in classic tv ads slots, an example: nightly news. They would do target groups by age, race, sex. Lets say Team Obama is looking for campaign contribution and/or become or visible to women between ages of 40-49:
George Clooney had an almost gravitational tug on West Coast females ages 40 to 49. The women were far and away the single demographic group most likely to hand over cash, for a chance to dine in Hollywood with Clooney — and Obama
They sought out an East Coast celebrity who had similar appeal among the same demographic, aiming to replicate the millions of dollars produced by the Clooney contest. “We were blessed with an overflowing menu of options, but we chose Sarah Jessica Parker,”
When it came to ad buys the Obama team chose what some may call unusual from the normal time slot. This is where it gets interesting. Because they never outsource, the Obama team have data from the cave showing the viewing habits from the people, team Obama wants to reach. Example:
Rather than rely on outside media consultants to decide where ads should run, Messina based his purchases on the massive internal data sets. “We were able to put our target voters through some really complicated modeling, to say, O.K., if Miami-Dade women under 35 are the targets, [here is] how to reach them,” said one official. As a result, the campaign bought ads to air during unconventional programming, like Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, skirting the traditional route of buying ads next to local news programming. How much more efficient was the Obama campaign of 2012 than 2008 at ad buying? Chicago has a number for that: “On TV we were able to buy 14% more efficiently … to make sure we were talking to our persuadable voters,”
I watch Storage Wars on A&E and I always saw Obama's ads. I thought it was weird to see a political ad on that channel during that time, but it turns out I and others were being targeted. I also saw Obama ads on Discovery Channel and other prime time shows. I never saw Romney's ads during that time, so I guess that was the point.
When it came to social media, team Obama created programs and data points that are ahead of our times, this is amazing:
Online, the get-out-the-vote effort continued with a first-ever attempt at using Facebook on a mass scale to replicate the door-knocking efforts of field organizers. In the final weeks of the campaign, people who had downloaded an app were sent messages with pictures of their friends in swing states. They were told to click a button to automatically urge those targeted voters to take certain actions, such as registering to vote, voting early or getting to the polls. The campaign found that roughly 1 in 5 people contacted by a Facebook pal acted on the request, in large part because the message came from someone they knew.The Obama Facebook app was developed from the cave, it allowed them to contact your friends through you. There are no need for yard signs because the Obama team know they can get better results for get-out-the-vote with one click of your button on Facebook. Amazing, your friends would get a get-out-to-vote from the cave. Fuck a yard sign!!!
This is why Team Obama was so confident on the night of the election:
The magic tricks that opened wallets were then repurposed to turn out votes. The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states. In the past month, said one official, the analytics team had polling data from about 29,000 people in Ohio alone — a whopping sample that composed nearly half of 1% of all voters there — allowing for deep dives into exactly where each demographic and regional group was trending at any given moment. This was a huge advantage: when polls started to slip after the first debate, they could check to see which voters were changing sides and which were not.
“We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” said a senior official, describing the computer simulations the campaign ran to figure out Obama’s odds of winning each swing state. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”
If you have time please listen to the interview. Team Obama ran an amazing race. There are more to microtargeting I didn't cover. Romney never had a chance. Hollywood should make a movie about this. Wow!