The other side not only has data whizzes but the wherewithal to manipulate voters.
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The GOP did extensive research in the last decade to identify characteristics across voting blocs that would indicate a propensity to vote Republican. The practice, popularly known as microtargeting, assumes that people with similar patterns of consumer behavior or attitudes will vote in similar ways.
In other words, if people who drive Nissans, people who drink Evian, and people who watch Real Housewives of Wherever-they-are-this-week all tend to vote heavily for Democrats, then a voter whose profile indicates they do all of those is most likely a safe vote for the left.
The Republicans did groundbreaking work in this area and the Democrats invested heavily to catch up.
Now, much has been written about Obama’s data nerds, and I suspect that comes from the nerds themselves tooting their own horn. It’s a common problem with people involved in successful campaigns. It’s also why I tend to look for the casual mentions of things that don’t get wide coverage to identify where the real win happened.
In the case of Obama, the frightening advantage the left has is in a less touted entity known as the Analyst Institute (AI) and a consortium of behavioral scientists or COBS. The combination should be truly terrifying for anyone on the right.
To sum it up briefly, the AI and COBS combine to create an academic approach to data that the right truly doesn’t have and may well have difficulty matching. The AI works with many left-leaning groups on an institutional level to test messaging components to see what moves people. In many ways it is a matter of simple multivariate testing to identify messages that move people — present a number of different versions to subsets of your list and see which performs best. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Where the AI becomes terrifying is when you mix it with COBS. COBS, for its part, is a collective of behavioral scientists from across academia who specialize in a much more advanced form of microtargeting. These are people concerned not only with your characteristics and voting behavior, but how they can manipulate that behavior. They’ve united to form a behavioral brain trust for the left.
It’s one thing to know that someone is a likely voter and test messages to see what moves them. That would represent the intersection of the AI and traditional microtargeting. You’re just trying to trigger the characteristic that would cause them to act on a latent behavior to which they are already inclined.
When behavioral psychologists, behavioral economists, and behavioral political theorists unite to identify ways of shaping behavior, you start to see possibilities the best propaganda machines in history could not have imagined.
During World War I and World War II nations were experimenting with art, songs, movies, books, and messages that could elicit a patriotic response. They were so effective that this country effectively prohibited the government from investing in the practice.
Now consider the possibility of doing the same level of experimentation with triggered emotional response but you have data telling you what music the audience consumes, the movies they watch, the TV shows they sit still for, and even the food and drinks they buy.
For the academics part, it’s the perfect situation. The Stanford Prisoner Experiment requires disclosure of testing parameters to subjects of experimentation. Political communication has no such restriction. If you want to get field knowledge of how to bend, fold, and twist voter behavior — without having to tell voters they’re being manipulated — who wouldn’t sign up?
That simple, frightening fact is why I, a dedicated technologist, have no fear about the GOP’s deficiency in technology, but instead stay awake at night terrified by our lack of access to the academics studying these fields.
Our challenge is not in data or technologists. Our challenge is competing in the realm of academic investigation and the brainpower represented by professors with tenure who do nothing but come up with ideas to explore. Now they have access to a free, unrestricted laboratory to test their theories, and a party willing to foot the bill. It is a perfect storm from which the GOP may truly be unable to escape.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?