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Meyer: Or where it is just sort of muddled. We did some joint stuff in Ohio, where one party might lean one way or the other, but it wasn’t so strong that you just wanted to get all the Democrats and leave all the Republicans and vice versa, that you were going to have to get some votes out of these guys. You know, we did this Obama initiative stuff in Ohio on primary day, and it was a little scary in this Tea Party age. Are we going to be able to thread this needle?

Drechsler: And even in party-rigged states, we sometimes find ourselves asking, “Why do we need this?” You might have the advantage of 400,000 votes, but you’re down in the polls. You’re going to need that crossover; you’re going to need to fig- ure out who you can reach out to, who your soft Dems are. A Democrat in one part of the state is very different in another part of the state, just like a Republican is different.

C&E: Something you would never have known had you not gone through this process.

Meyers: That can be a struggle too, when you find something that is counterintuitive. How do I vali- date this enough? I come out of the purely politi- cal world, even trying to convince myself that I’ve really found something. And then, do I have confi- dence enough to take this up the ladder?

Rivlin: That’s where we make our money; it’s why we have a mix of political backgrounds, rather than just stats classes from MIT. Our job is to interpret the politics and see when something comes up that’s counterintuitive: Is it counterintuitive be- cause there’s a lot of counterintuitive things in the world that become perceived wisdom? Or because there’s something wrong with the data and the stats? Our job is to make that decision, and that’s where the art comes in. That is what’s fun about the gig.

Allen: If it were just plugging things into a com- puter and spitting out lists…ugh.

C&E: Let’s talk about looking ahead. What gets you excited about what you are going to be able to do? Some of the advancements you think are coming?

Meyers: I think in 2012 we’ll see the full integra- tion of the digital side of campaigns. We’re see- ing that more now, but it’s not fully there yet. By 2012, you’ll have the full integration of it—the Holy Grail we’ve been seeking since we started.

Every time someone has asked me this since 2004, “Where I can deliver my commercial to some- body,” is beginning to exist. We could do it if they would let us, there’s no technological impairment. They don’t know how to put a billing system

together for an individual ad that goes out. They know how to bill the cable system, and they don’t know how to bill a household. The hard part of that is, how do you make people who aren’t par- tisan watch your stuff? Getting someone in the middle to watch something is so hard. Outside of the presidential candidate, why would anybody opt to do that? It’s like, well, you have a website that people can go to get information, but what would you need this for?

Drechsler: You can take the approach of shooting fish in a barrel: You’ll hit somebody. Or you can do the scalpel or laser. I think that’s the greatest benefit of microtargeting for campaigns—it hones in on how to deliver the best, most precise message to your voters. Rivlin: The only thing that I would say that makes it complicated and hard is that you can’t simul- taneously run seventeen different messages in a campaign. When we talk about this stuff, you’ve got to take the micro out of microtargeting. No campaign, not even presidential, can run 17 niche message streams to 17 different groups of people. You can’t afford to do it, it’s impractical to do mail runs or phone strips, and the logistics are ridicu- lously important. At the end of the day, each of us has to get 50 + 1. You’ve got to be able to deliver narrow messages, but also not get so focused that you’re looking at your own navel. You have to find really nice clean universes that have 5% coverage of the population so that you end up winning big in the places you target and ignoring the rest of the population.

Meyers: We get frustrated, especially on big cam- paigns, with some of the laziness. There isn’t a real reason you can’t put together a dozen telephone scripts. There are some practical reasons why you can’t put together a dozen mail pieces every time you send mail out, but mail scripts aren’t hard.

Allen: No campaign is going to say, “Okay, I’ll be the experiment, we’ll mess around with something that might or might not work and see you on Elec- tion Day!” You get this nice field experiment thing because not everyone is going to implement what you are doing in the same way. Not everyone is going to adopt it to the same level. Not everyone is going to make the same choice based on the advice

December 2010 | Campaigns & Elections 71

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