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Big data wars: How technology could tip the mid-term elections

Jeff Vance | Oct. 28, 2014
The Democratic Party started building databases with detailed voter information, started deploying data analytics tools, and quickly saw the possibilities of social media.

"The way it typically works is you have people going door to door, taking down notes in the margins of their walk sheets, but then once they get back to the office, those sheets are just left on a desk for someone else to enter into the database," Ryun said. The reality is that those notes are only rarely entered into databases, so all of that actionable voter intelligence is simply lost. With tools like VoterGravity, volunteers can enter this information on the fly into their smartphones and tablets.

Democrats have been capturing data like this for years now and are doing everything in their power to extend their tech lead.

The left leads in attracting tech talent

As Northeast Regional Press Secretary of Obama for America, Michael Czin had a front-row seat in 2012, seeing just how important technological innovations could be to an election. Today, Czin serves as the National Press Secretary of the Democratic National Committee, and he is one of the key movers behind the Democrat's new technology platform, Project Ivy.

Project Ivy focuses on "four tools and strategies," a voter file and data warehouse, analytics infrastructure, field and marketing tools, and "training and fostering a culture that cultivates further technological innovations."

There's that term again, "culture." Fostering a culture of innovation may well be the most important advantage the left has in the tech wars. Czin argues that even if the right catches up in terms of technology, the technology itself will be "nearly useless unless there is a culture that values inclusion, expanding participation and the ability to use technology to apply those values to all levels of campaigns. Right now Republicans simply lack the technology and the culture to get the job done."

Whitaker of NGP VAN believes that culture has another advantage: the cultivation of talent.

"We [the left] are establishing a pipeline of talent that the right can't match," Whitaker says. "We attract technologists and data scientists from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and all the top schools. We have progressive tech firms based in these cities, everywhere from Boston to D.C. to Oakland, California, and we know how to plug these people into campaigns where they can immediately start making a difference."

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Czin agrees with this assessment and also believes that the reason Democrats attract more tech-savvy campaign workers and volunteers is policy. Young tech-savvy people can be put off by the perception that right is anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-women, and pro-gun.

Another point Czin makes is how each side regards technology. "Republicans see technology as way to cover up deficiencies in policies or candidates," he says. "Democrats look at technology much differently. It's another tool, one of many, not an end in itself."


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