How Obama Won in 2008

Thomas Edsall writes:

Technology has left the poll-oriented media in the dark, posing major challenges to the publications that report on the campaigns. New methods of micro-targeting have given campaigns the ability to identify and to characterize individual and prospective voters, their likelihood of voting for or against a candidate, the issues that motivate them, and the most effective tools to get them to the polls or to stay home ("vote suppression"). Media targeting has enabled operatives to use increasingly sophisticated filters to identify the fine-grained demographics of audiences for local radio, television, and--importantly--new media platforms. Data-filtering allows politicos to develop separate portraits of every voter in key battleground precincts or states. These information-intensive methods of list development have, in turn, provided access to the crucial ingredient to make it all work--money.

As the authors make clear, these advances help to explain the success of the Obama campaign, which took particular advantage of so-called "early voting." Nearly one-third of all ballots cast were sent in before Election Day, November 4, and early voting policies have now been adopted by two thirds of all states. Obama's national field director, Jon Carson, told the authors that "early voting didn't change our strategy. It was our strategy." The Obama operation's outreach was expert, prolonged, and coherent. Over the duration of the campaign, Obama forces sent out over one billion emails, and communicated by text messaging with over one million voters.

Well-crafted questions in the tracking survey data allow the authors to make nuanced analyses of seemingly tiny but actually significant shifts in the electorate over time. Take, for example, the Obama campaign's sustained portrayal of McCain as a Bush clone. Obama strategists made repeated use of television clips of McCain's boast that he "voted with Bush 90 percent of the time," a claim he was forced to make during the primaries to affirm his Republican credentials. The authors found that from June 9, 2008 to the election, the number of people swayed by the Obama campaign's "McSame" argument grew each day by 0.035 percent. Now 0.035 percent does not seem like much, much less something to spend millions of dollars on. But when you add up 0.035 percent-a-day over twenty-one weeks, you come up with just over 5 percent, which in politics is a very big number.

Read the rest here.




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