Some astonishing details are trickling out about the Obama campaign’s sophisticated infrastructure. They were polling, watching, targeting, microtargeting, “microlistening,” and in general doing everything possible to stay on message, turn out voters, and economize.
The New York Times reported the other day on an especially creepy project employing behavioral scientists:
The group — which calls itself the “consortium of behavioral scientists,” or COBS — provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters.
When asked about the outside psychologists, the Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with them. … At least some of the consortium’s proposals seemed to have found their way into daily operations. Campaign volunteers who knocked on doors last week in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada did not merely remind people to vote and arrange for rides to the polls. Rather, they worked from a script, using subtle motivational techniques that research has shown can prompt people to take action.
“We used the scripts more as a guide,” said Sarah Weinstein, 18, a Columbia freshman who traveled with a group to Cleveland the weekend before the election. “The actual language we used was invested in the individual person.”
Tim Murphy reports on how the campaign headquarters in Chicago mobilized volunteers on the ground:
When the campaign rolled out Dashboard—a one-stop site for phone-banking, event-planning, and networking—it transformed how volunteers and staff interacted. The new platform allowed OFA to collect feedback from the ground on an enormous scale, and respond accordingly. In short, it made the flow of information bidirectional.
“What it did was it listened, and it trickled up information,” [Harper] Reed [the Obama campaign's CTO] told me. “So like, if you were a volunteer and you knocked on a bunch of doors and you had a particularly bad day, you could say, ‘I’m in a very red area, I’m having a particularly bad day specifically on health care.’ So that trickles up.”
And while they were doing all this, the Romney campaign was playing name games:
The name for Project ORCA, the Romney campaign’s much-vaunted, digital voter turnout and poll monitoring system, started out as something of a joke.
ORCA was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder to an advanced data-gathering effort put together by the Obama campaign called Project Narwhal. The Romney team’s conceit: An orca is a natural predator of the narwhal, a tusked-whale that lives in the Arctic.
See Lloyd Green’s review of Sasha Issenberg’s book, The Victory Lab, about the science of winning campaigns, here.