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Facebook app helped Pres. Obama win Florida and Ohio

19th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

How did 200,000 more African-American voters in Ohio turnout to the polls in 2012 than 2008? How did President Barack Obama earn a 74,000 vote margin in Florida when all the polls said Mitt Rom­ney led by at least a point?

Even with the competitive races for City Council District B & E, how did the President get 25,000 more New Orleanians to the polls on November 6?

Demography played a roll in the Obama margins of victory, as most commentators have concluded. And, people of color’s devotion to the first Black President had an important impact, certainly. Still, in the midst of a bad economy, and an election of less than a two point margin between the Republican and Democratic candidates, how did the Obama campaign swing states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, where the polls showed ties—and occasional Romney leads prior to election day.

The answer is technology, specifically and the smart cell phones that most people have in their pockets. History may remember 2012 as the year that political campaigns may have just undergone a technological transformation as significant in impact as the invention of the telephone.

GOP ideological rigidly and rising people of color’s clout were the arguments pundits put forth as the root of Mitt Romney’s loss. Countless publications, including last week’s edition of this newspaper discussed the former, and there is little doubt that Millen­nials (voters under 28) are far less willing to vote on the conventional religiously-conservative issues as their parents. Perhaps the most stunning result of the election was that Obama won 27 percent of self-described Evangelical Christians.

Taking out African Americans — which comprise part of that number — and those who could not bring themselves to vote for a Mormon on sectarian grounds (very small figure), there is little doubt that religious conservative young people provided Obama with part of his margin of victory in Virginia and Florida.

Rising numbers of Hispanics aside, GOP opposition to gay marriage, drug legalization, and other social issues drove part of the youth turnout. Polling data on Millennials shows a far more libertarian stance. The success of the four gay marriage initiatives was based, in part, on the surge of young people going to the polls. (African Americans may have surged as well, but they divided on legalizing same sex marriage and marijuana.)

[Millennials are socially liberal on almost all issues, but one. They do favor SOME abortion restrictions more than the average Baby Boomers. Polling indicates while they would have no interest in Todd Akin like “legit rape” attitudes, they do prefer late-term bans and show some sympathy for even some first trimester restrictions outside of Rape, Incest, and Danger to Life. The reason, though, is not religious, unlike their older peers. A bare majority of Millennials are beginning to view late term abortions as a Human Rights issue as arguments of viability after the first trimester raise scientific arguments about viability. It also argues why the Ron Paul, socially moderate elsewhere, still maintain his pro-life credentials without losing support amongst young college students. Case in point, some polling data points to Millennials worrying that as the human genome is mapped, the genetic markers for a pre-disposition to homosexuality could lead some parents to abort potentially gay children. That’s an argument for a pro-life position one rarely hears in churches, but one that is emerging amongst the young.]

Nevertheless, the ultimate question of this election year is why did Millennials surge this year? The answer is political technology.

Only eight years ago, Karl Rove and the Republicans seemed to have a lock on micro-targeting of voters, but that was before Facebook — and its potential — was realized by the Obama camp.

As Time magazine’s Michael Scherer explained, “The [Obama] 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 one percent 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.”

“It was this database that helped steady campaign aides in Octo­ber’s choppy waters, assuring them that most of the Ohioans in motion were not Obama backers but likely Romney supporters whom Romney had lost because of his September blunders.”

“We were much calmer than others,” said one of the officials reportedly told Scherer. The surveys and voter-contact data were examined over an over.

“We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” he continued, 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.”

“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 Obama tech team used this downloadable campaign app to sync one’s smartphone with Face­book. It not only provided real-time info, but provided the campaign with lists of your friends and info on you. That along with specific polling data, i.e., 35-year- old single women in Miami-Dade—was fed into a single database.

This allowed two things. Based on the “Likes” from Facebook, the Obama team was able to target cable TV buys of favorite cable programs of their key target groups. Whereas the Romney team was buying the evening news and “60 Minutes,” Obama was buying a certain reality TV show enjoyed by the residents of particular community. And, in some cases, on local cable, at a fraction of the cost of what the Romney campaign was spending.

The President’s campaign managers still bought the conventional media, but they managed to have ads on TV programs that the Romneyites had never considered. And, the old truism stands: An attack unanswered is an attack proven.

Obama got more bang for his buck, in other words. But, that was not the extraordinary development here. If you had downloaded the app, as millions did, the campaign database would choose five of your Facebook friends that were identified as swing voters, and ask you to message them on Facebook. The campaign ask YOU to ask your friends to vote for Obama.

Imagine the power of that request, coming to a swing voter from a friend.

The campaign would also ask you to telephone or email them personally—and would provide the email for you to send. The subject line had been polled and tested, based on age, income, and other demos. All you had to do is push a button. Getting an email and Facebook message from a friend made the person more likely to vote, and for the candidate requested.

People will do a favor for a friend, when they will ignore the messages from campaigns. The Obama campaign was careful to limit the request to just five, finding people would not do more, and five guaranteed at least—an average—of one vote added to the President’s total. (The figure came from repeating surveys and polls as to the maximum number an average supporter will contact on his own, very scientifically based.)

Facebook’s potential provided the ultimate in microtargeting. In other words, regardless of demo­graphy or social ideolo­gical vision, Obama swung Virginia and Florida—at least—through the use of technology. And, likely it played a major role in Ohio and Wisconsin, though those states would have undoubtedly stayed in the President’s column regardless.

While small campaigns may not have the TV budget to buy random cable shows, time will tell how this model could be applied to races for council, State Representative, etc. And, whether it could it be done at an affordable cost? It is a budding business for someone of a social media background.

This article originally published in the November 19, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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