Mitt Romney's Algorithmic Campaign

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The Republican contender wants to reverse engineer the Obama team's data-driven tactics.

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Reuters

Sasha Issenberg has a fascinating exploration of the analytical approach at the heart of the Romney campaign. All campaigns use a lot of data these days, but the Romney team is drawing on a new, rich dataset: President Obama's appearances and ad buys themselves. Every detail of Obama's campaigning is feeding into Romney statistical models, from his ads' narrators' genders to the nominal audience they seem to be targeting. This a data-driven attempt to reverse engineer the Obama team's strategy.

"The Obama team had the luxury of knowing exactly what they'd be doing on July 1, 2012 because they've been planning for six years -- definitely three-and-a-half years," says Zac Moffatt, Romney's digital director. So instead of devoting their analytical energies to out-strategizing the president, Romney's advisers are trying to hack Obama's code and turn it against him.

As the dataset of Obama activity expands over the course of the campaign, the burden of finding those patterns will shift from the eyes of advisers huddled in weekly meetings to the statistical models they've written. Algorithms will test the association between vote goals and the candidates' travel and ad placement, staring through Obama's visible tactics to reveal a latent strategy beneath.

Those calculations, along with other data from internal polls and the campaign's interactions with voters through field activity and phone contacts, feed into nightly simulations of local and state dynamics that spiral up all the way to electoral-college projections. Only then do Romney's aides believe they will know enough about how their dollars ought to be spent, and where their candidate ought to go.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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