We are still only getting sketchy tidbits and details about the ground game for both sides in the 2012 US Presidential Election. Experts on both sides concede that Obama's ground game, the 'Get-Out-The-Vote' game, of voting day voter activation, was far superior to that of Romney and helped - perhaps decisively - to win the race. President Obama was exceptionally gracious in thanking his team for what was a herculean task. I want to explore what we know now, less than a week after the election, as certain fascinating tidbits are revealed from both sides of the digital side of the election. The data mining and market research side of the war. Not just the ground war, but how it was directed. The Romney machine called Orca vs the Obama machine called Narwhal. This is truly a classic match-up, like Godzilla vs King Kong. (be prepared, this is a long article, nearly 9,000 words, and there is a lot of math in it..)
Romney had built a brand new database and voting monintoring
and voter activation system called Orca. It is credited with catching the
voting behavior of about 14 Million Romney supporters. It also is famous for
crashing many times during the day and that many Romney supporters had trouble
logging into the system, some never made it all day. Project Orca had inputs
coming in from voting places from 34,000 Romney supporters, who would report
how each voting precinct was performing. Based on that info, Romney
headquarters in Boston could monitor in real time what was the voting in every
state, by precinct, and then make their estimates of what the situation was on
the ground, and then direct GOTV efforts, primarily robocalls, directed by a
phone banking staff of 800.
They would make 6 million calls during the day - a number never attempted before by the Republicans. The Orca system would guide which states were trending 'safely' for Romney, and where their voter numbers were down from projections. This meant, Romney could direct their resources efficiently, to make calls in those states where needed. What is more, the Orca system had identified the needed phone number area codes, so they would call those regions that were strongly Romney and Republican-leaning, so if a given county went for McCain over Obama in 2008 at a ratio of say 70 to 30 or for example 60 to 40, when the whole country went against McCain 47 to 53, such counties were good places to target, with a lop-side Republican supporter base, and make sure, all of their voters would come to the polls, because those would be strongly leaning to the Republicans.. We do also know, that Romney's team explicitly did not attempt to build its own lists of supporters (that would take months, years even) but rather, it bought commerically available lists, email lists, phone number lists, which are of less than perfect accuracy and relevance.
Understand, this all was new. McCain had nothing like this. McCain's campaign was still paper-based with 'strike lists' ie paper slips with names and numbers, you called them and then 'striked' a name off the list, when that person said they had voted. Romney's ground game was a whole generation ahead of McCain's in 2008 and by mid October, Romney's campaign boasted that it had made 50 million actual contacts with voters. Those contacts ranged from visits at home and phone calls, to emails and Facebook contacts, to robocalls and traditional mailings via the post, and depositing doorknob hangers. Out of a nation of 130 million actual voters and some 145 million registered voters, and a target level of about 60 to 65 million Republican-leaning supporters, to make 50 million contacts is very impressive (it would include duplicates, so the aggregate total contacts would be lower). The ABC/WaPo poll of registered voters in mid October found that 18% of the voter base had been contacted by Romney, which would be about 26 million individual voters. So Romney's team had had hit their targets typically twice.
Unfortunately it was indeed, all new. The team was not
trained to use this complex system. It required users in the field to access
the system from smartphones and needed user IDs and passwords. The volunteers had
to read a 60 page manual, which was only sent to the volunteers the night
before the election. In the morning, many of the users of the system weren't
able to access it, and there was no help desk. The actual decision-making desk
at Project Orca in Boston was unable to rely on data from the field as
expected, and often got the best info from TV news like CNN and Fox, rather
than their own field machine. This part of Orca was underperforming hideously,
compared to what it could have been, if it had been a well-tested, well-run and
well trained system.
There is an interesting parallel to 2008. In 2008, Obama's team had intended to collect voting data per voter, in key districts, and send it in via mobile phones to their central database, through an automated telephone switchboard just by keying in numbers and using IVR (Interactive Voice Response) just like we all do when we call a calling center and they ask us to punch in numbers, press 1 to find out about your phone bill, press 2 to hear our new offer, etc.. The system was called Houdini, and it too crashed on election day due to completely overwhelming telecoms traffic that they had not anticipated. But at least Axelrod and gang had been smart enough to pre-test it and to build a work-around in case it failed on election day. They went back to paper and pencil, and runners, and did get useful data while not anywhere near as efficiently as hoped, in 2008. The difference in Orca in 2012, is that Romney's team had no alternative and when Orca crashed, it was unable to help in any way, and there was no workaround.
Also, just as a note. The Obama system was known for months, that it is internally called Project Narwhal. Narwhal or Narwhale, is an arctic whale. And the only known predator in nature (other than man) that hunts the Narwhal is - the killer whale, Orca. So when Romney's team wanted to best Narwhal, and beat team Obama, they named their datamining project Orca. Yeah, thats intimidation right there.. Both sides were making occasional revellations about their systems to psyche out the other side.
Where the Romney campaign was running fast to try to get into the 21st century with their GOTV plans, Obama's team, led by Axelrod, Plouffe and Messina had already done all that. Their 2008 campaign had been brought to fully digital communications, and was very cutting edge from the SMS announcement of Obama's choice of Vice President, to using Facebook. Its not just that the Obama team was fully digital and using social media back in 2008, they had now had four years of time to plan and build and revise and expand their system. Boy did they ever.
We do not have direct apples-to-apples comparison numbers on every metric, but consider the few where we do. Romney's team was proud of achieving 50 million contacts by mid October with their base (which included non-personal contacts such as mailings, doorknob hangers and robocalls). Obama's team announced they had hit 125 million personal contacts. Personal contacts! Visits at home or phone calls. Wow. Based on that same ABC/WaPo survey of total contacts made, Obama's team had hit about 28 million registered voters. 125 million total contacts meant, that Obama's team had talked to - talked to - their voters/supporters on average 5 times in the election cycle so far. You really get to know your voters this way! And Obama got just over 60 million votes in the end. By mid October, the Obama team in Chicago had personally spoken to almost half of those who would eventually vote for them - and on average spoken with each voter 5 times. Not 'sent a letter' but actually spoken, face-to-face, or via phone, on average 5 times!
Romney's team consistently every month spent most of its massive millions in campaign funds on TV ads. Obama's team not one month had its biggest spend in TV advertising. Its biggest spend every month was the mysterious Project Narwhal. They spent millions on this project months before voting day? Why? Because it was a grand plan and it was truly nefarious. First, Team Chicago had decided that the info coming from regular pollsters was not accurate enough. We saw how many daily polls every day? And yet the Obama team felt that was not accurate enough. So they contructed the biggest polling panel ever made, of 29,000 voters in the state of Ohio alone (nearly 1% of the total voting population in Ohio). I am pretty sure they didn't get this level in all states, but probably did, in the targeted 9 battleground states. If we assume the same ratio held for all 9 battleground states, then Narwhal would have a voter panel of approximiately 300,000 total voters - just in those 9 states. Double or triple that for the rest of the country to cover all 50 states (probably with less people on the panels in the other states, as those were not goin g to be as critical to victory). This is by two whole orders of magnitude more accurate than anything any professional pollster ever runs. A 'huge' consumer survey might run 3,000 surveys. Obama's team ran 100 times that size (or likely even bigger yet).
This is the essence of Project Narwhal (and DreamCatcher) which was not primarily a voting day machine, but something to give voter insights all throughout the campaign season. The accuracy level of the Obama internal poll totally blasts away any other professional pollsters - usually major national polls have sample sizes from 1,000 to 2,600 voters. State-wide polls often have sample sizes as small as 600 voters. Obama's machine accuracy was so precise, they matched actual voter results on election day, to their panel projection, within a fraction of a percent in almost every battleground state. In Colorado, where Obama's winning victory was far bigger than any public polling had suggested, Narwhal still predicted the landslide victory for Obama, but undercounted it by only 1%. Even when it was 'massively' off, it was off by one percent and did not miss who would be the winner. Team Obama knew they had won. And this level of accuracy is the management insight which drove the Obama campaign.
And this system was built, tested, improved, and its users
trained. Users on Narhwal had received training on it a year before election
day. The system was truly tested and used daily, not unveiled on election day.
Project Narwhal was also a massive election simulation tool - I really like this part (eleven years ago, back when I was still employed over at Nokia, as part of the Nokia consulting assets and tools, I was heading Nokia's set of simulation tools, so this is also a personal interest of mine). So Obama's team could simulate anything, what if one of the candidates had a heart attack, what if there was a blizzard on voting day, what if there was a military scandal and the military vote support was suddenly lost, etc. The Obama team ran... get this.. 2 MILLION simulations of election outcomes through Narwhal !!! They knew every conceivable scenario, well before it played. They KNEW if there was an Atlantic hurricane that would appear in the last week of the election, what to do with it. Why? Because they had modelleled it through no doubt over 1,000 separate simulations, what if it only hits southern Atlantic, what if it causes Manhattan to flood, what if it rushes up to Boston, what if it blocks out electricity to fifteen Northeastern states - and what if Obama stays campaigning during the Hurricane, what if he stops campaigning but Romney continues, etc etc etc. 2 million total simulations, powered with the most complete consumer survey data of any country any election electorate, ever. Its not just that Narwhal knew what was happening on election day, minute by minute. Narwhal had pre-anticipated any conceivable variation. This is like playing chess against a computer - and the computer is powerful enough to calculate essentially every variation from that move onto check mate. What if there is a terrorist attack in Houston, what would that do to Texas vote and the national vote etc etc etc..
The power of simulation is incredible, if your model is reasonably accurate - which is why simulation is used to train supercritical experts such as astronauts, submarine captains, fighter pilots, Formula 1 drivers, tank commanders etc. So what could Chicago do with these simulations? They soon were able to identify the exact parameters of what type of person would be likely to support the campaign by donating via online - and what messages would trigger that donation; compared to who would rather donate via mail (ie send a cheque) or via SMS etc. They were able to find what types of people were willing to volunteer to help the team etc. How powerful? They raised almost a Billion dollars in donations this way, far and away more than in 2008 - when the Obama campaign set the records for most unique individual donators, and the most money ever raised in an election. The benefit of such simulation is to test out which method works the best, and that, in turn helps guide management into using scarse resources more efficiently. The Obama campaign was always many steps ahead of the Romney campaign.
About those comparisons. We do know Project Orca for Romney was able to capture voting info for '91%' of the intended target voters, and thus it has at a miminum a capacity of collecting data on about 16 million voters. It did not contain this info on election day - so Orca did not know which voters were going to vote for Romney, etc, but as the data came in, Orca added to the info, so that data on about 14 million Republican supporters can be used next time in the 2016 Presidential election. Remember, Orca was only taken into use on election day, and Romney staff had not meticulously been collecting voter preferences in the weeks and months leading into the election (like how Obama's team had done).
Compare to Narwhal. Obama's team had preloaded its massive database with 175 million voting age Americans already before election day! They knew who were registered voters, and they had a very good understanding who were likely Romney or Republican supporters, who were Obama or Democratic supporters and who were swing voters. The Obama campaign had contacted nearly half of its own voter base, and knew which were the 28% who had voted early - those did not need reminder calls on election day - and knew which were the four million who had made a campaign contribution - very high level VIP supporters of the Obama campaign, etc. This is like comparing a navy with a saiboat to a navy with an aircraft carrier. Yes, Romney's Orca was a quantum leap compared to the paper-based system McCain's team had used. But it was peanuts compared to Obama's massive multi-multi-million dollar system. The 2008 version was the biggest data mining effort in any election. The 2012 Obama edition had 5 times the staff compared to 2008 and cost a massive 100 Million dollars to build. Whatever Orca was or could have been, was utterly dwarfed by Narwhal and its sisters. So what did the two campaigns do with their systems?
A TALE OF TWO ARMIES
Romney's campaign had made 50 million voter contacts by mid October. For the final push, they had recruited an unprecedented - for Republicans - army of 34,000 volunteers to help on election day, who targeted and fed info for 800 calling center staff who completed 6 million robocalls. When Romney was to get about 60 million votes (actually ended up with about 58 million) that means that as they wanted to make 6 million calls on election day, Boston had a theoretical target of hitting 10% of their voters (if they were accurate enough to only hit Republicans).
No, thats merely a mob. Thats a boy scouts club, 34 thousand volunteers. Check this out. The obama campaign had recruited a genuine army. Over 300,000 volunteers. 109,000 of the volunteers were out in the field, to make 7 million visits to individual voter homes !!! Yes, Obama had such a superiority in numbers, they were able to make more personal visits to homes, than Romney total contacts by phone. And what of phone contacts? Obama's volunteers had 200,000 manning the phone banks, who made 11 million phone calls. But wait? Romney had 800 people who made 6 million calls and Obama had 200,000 who made less than twice the number, at 11 million calls? What gives?
Romney's 800 staff who made 6 million calls, did not talk to the people they called. The Romney team directed robocalls to targeted area codes to reach phones in districts where there were many Republicans. If we say those 800 were full-time employed and worked 8 hours, then they would need to process one robocall every 4 seconds. At Obama's side, if we assume a volunteer worked a 2 hour shift, then doing phones made only 55 calls in two hours. So an Obama phone bank volunteer spent on average 2 minutes per call. Yes, Romney mostly pushed robocalls to their targets, while Obama's callers actually talked to the voters. Obama callers would first, know if the person they reached was an actual voter - if you push a robocall, you just let the phone ring, and you move onto the next call. Then, Obama's team would find out talking to the potential voter, if the person had already voted - very useful information. And the Obama team could present useful arguments that this given potential voter might appreciate - an automobile worker would probably be interested in a different argument than a retired teacher or a young university student. A huge difference!
And of that field staff monitoring the polling places? Romney's team believed they can react to location-specific changes, and monitoring most relevant polling places would give them an advantage. As Obama's team had tried that with their Project Houdini in 2008, and found it lacking (and crashing) they did have something like that, but at a far reduced scale, called Gordon (for the man who reportedly killed Houdini) as the Obama team knew they had far more relevant information through Narwhal/DreamCatcher and could target based on real voter preferences and behavior, rather than just by voting precinct. So Axelrod directed most of the ground team to pound doors, to visit homes, rather than count voters at polling places. This was both a lesson already learned by Chicago that Boston hadn't yet learned, and the power coming from far more deep insights into voter behavior, that was collected over many months. Chicago was driven by the extensive and powerful data they were now mining.
And now we get to the real marketing research brilliance of Narwhal. Obama's campaign had consistently asked its supporters at the various events etc, had they voted already, were they intending to, did they support the campaign, could they give a phone number, were they willing to contribute money, come and volunteer, etc. When Romney campaign staff were told this, they said they had considered it but 'the squeeze is not worth the juice' - the Romney side had decided, that asking such personal questions from their supporters would more upset them and scare them, and they would not want to go through that trouble, for what little it could generate. What a difference.
Up to middle of October, Romney's campaign had reached nearly half of those who would eventually vote for them, and contacted them twice, but in many cases those contacts were robocalls or mailings etc. Obama's campaign had also made mail and other impersonal contacts, but of the half of their voters that had been contacted, Obama's team had on average hit the voter five times, in person, by a volunteer visiting the home or talking to the supporter by phone. Obama had built a very strong insight into its voter base - because all this data was collected to Narwhal. Obama had two types of ratings for every voter in its database. What was the level of support for Obama - from positive 100% in favor to negative 100% against. There was an Obama support level rating. And separately, for every voter contacted or measured, there was another rating, of what was the likelihood of voting on election day (or before).
During the campaign, the campaign heads in Chicago could see, from one campaign news event to another, what moved which types of voters. Did the women feel energized to support Obama more, when the rape guy in Indiana made his comments. What kind of comments by Obama and his supporters would move that opinion more towards their side, and also, when was the benefit hitting its ceiling, and some other argument was more useful for that segment, like 'binders of women' or salary inequality, etc etc. The project Narwhal was used all through the campaign to measure how the electorate was reacting to the 47% video or the Obama first debate failure, or the Jeep ads in Ohio etc.
On election day, Narwhal drove Obama's massive volunteer army of over 300,000 to hit those voter prospects, where a reminder was most likely to cause a vote for Obama. So, for example, if you are a die-hard Obama supporter, and you already contributed to Obama and you write nice things about Obama on your Facebook page, that is such a loyal supporter, he or she does not need a reminder. To make a reminder call to that person is a waste of your time! That voter will show up and pull the Obama lever come what may.
Then at the other end, there are those voters who are so unlikely to vote at all, or who are undecided between Obama and Romney, such a phone call or visit will not be very useful, it might just as well push that voter to go vote for Romney. If you don't have time and resources to contact every potential voter, then the best way is to contact those 'in the middle' who are somewhat Obama supporters and somewhat willing to vote today. (Obviously Narwhal removed all names who had already voted). Its not just that Narwhal told the volunteers who to contact by who had already voted or who was supporting Democrats - info that Romney team's Orca didn't have - but Narwhal went far further, by prioritizing those voters in the middle of Obama's support, where a single call reminder or SMS text message or Facebook reminder, or a visit to the home, would be most likely to result in an actual vote for Obama! This level of precision was not even planned for Orca, it was like from another galaxy.
So compare to Romney's Orca. Orca told volunteers which county in the USA needed calls now, where Republican voters are in large numbers but have not voted today at the required levels. And then Orca offered phone numbers into that voting precinct, voters who were not even pre-qualified in being Romney or Obama supporters, or who had voted yet etc. Those called voters might well have already received Facebook reminders, so they would be hit twice, and with the inaccuracies of Orca attempting to measure the actual situation on the ground, but failing to get accurate inputs from many volunteers, Orca was at best imprecise in directing where those calls were needed - and judging by how severely Orca mis-judged the final results - Orca likely also directed votes to wrong areas. For perfect example, if Orca pushed calls into North Carolina, which ended up going 3% to Romney, but Romney lost Florida by less than 1%, that was severe mistake by Boston. They should have known North Carolina better, that they were already winning there, and pushed those calls to Florida to turn Florida into their win column, and win North Carolina by less, like 2%, but also win Florida.
At Obama's side, Narwhal told callers not only which number has already voted, but of the numbers left, it only prioritized known Obama supporters, and of those - excluding those who were nearly certain to vote anyway, and excluded those whose support was so weak, they might go and vote for Romney. This is a HUGE difference in efficiency.
MEASURED PERFORMANCE DIFFERENCE
Remember, the Obama machine was 'learning' during the
season, it would not be a problem if it occasionally pushed Obama supporters to
also contact Romney supporters during September and October, if only to learn,
don't contact that household again.. the system was used to test all sorts of
things, from what kind of text to use in online buttons ie should it say 'sign
up now' or 'learn more' etc (the latter tested best out of four button texts,
the first tested worst, as it requires most commitment and nobody wants to sign
up for anything online anymore). So with that in mind, here is what the
ABC/WaPo poll revealed in mid October, how effective the two sides were in
targeting their outreach.
So we are two weeks before the election. The poll of campaign contacts to Registered Voters in the total country, found the race pretty even. The Obama campaign had reached 19% of registered voters and the Romney campaign 18%. But then go to battleground states. Both sides had prioritized the battleground states of course. Romney had done 50% better there, contacting 27% of the registered voters. Obama's campaign? Twice as good as nationally, at 37% of the registered voters contacted.
How precise were they? Romney contacts had hit 54% of its own supporters, so 46% of the contacts were 'wasted' and Romney had hit 25% Democrats, where a contact could be seen as damaging to the campaign. On Obama's side, remember, they hit far more voters overall than Romney - their accuracy was also far better. Obama's team hit 68% Obama supporters, only 13% were contacts made to Republicans. While the Romney campaign contacted a far smaller number of voters (And the electorate is nearly 50/50 divided) they hit a far more inaccurate contact rate than the Obama campaign. If we count 'provocatively' that every visit to the opposition is as damaging, as a visit to our supporter is positive (in reality probably not that severe) then Romney's 'net gain' is 54% supporters - 25% Democrats = gain of 29%. Compare to Obama, 68% supporters - 13% Republicans = 55% gain. The Obama campaign not just had more people on the ground, contacting more registered voters, they were doing it far more effectively. In total efficiency, by mid-October, in the Battleground states, Obama's team had actually achieved nearly double the contacts to friendly homes and phone numbers than Romney. And then - remember, the Obama campaign did nearly 5 personal contacts, vs Romney only 2 contacts but that included impersonal contacts too.
Oh, and it just gets worse and worse.. (or better and
better). Obama's team had also identified what the voter does. Is he or she a
military veteran, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a student or a retiree (And what
was the job they had before retiring) etc. So when the Obama team made calls,
they would have veterans calling veterans, nurses calling nurses, teachers
calling teachers, etc. How much more personal and powerful is that? And they
knew - from Narwhal - what arguments would work best for veterans (like Michelle
Obama's relentless work to help veterans find work and get good healthcare etc;
or now registered Republican, General Colin Powell's endorsement etc..) or for
teachers or union workers or students etc etc. The campaign volunteers were
trained which arguments to use for which types of voters, based on Narwhal's
extensive testing of the electorate and their 2 million simulations! Romney's
team could only select from a few pre-programmed robocalls, and send those
robocalls to that zip code or county.
LETS DO MATH
Now, lets go to the election day. Obama's team hit 11 million voters by phone call, and Romney's team hit 6 million. That is not a decisive difference per se. Lets examine how effective they are, by methodology and the system.
Romney's Orca system was built on traditional targeting by area codes, ZIP codes, phone number prefixes etc. Boston knew (or tried to know) where they needed the votes and pushed the phone banking volunteers to call certain regions. They were able to target Republican-leaning counties and voting precincts. So lets start with 6 million calls. They are mostly robocalls, the caller dials numbers and pushes the targeted message to that region, perhaps its a recording by Donald Trump for example, believed to be useful in that state (and one where he has given his permission for his voice to be used).
The national vote was about 58% turnout. So less than 60% of the voting age public voted, meaning 40% did not. If you call random (ie not pre-qualified) numbers, you will hit roughly, on average 40% non-voting targets. The person is not a US citizen or is under age, or is not registered to vote for any reason. And even of those registered, there is a proportion who for whatever reason, is not going to vote today, maybe there is a family emergency or maybe that voter has moved and the registration was to his old home, etc. 40% of your total effort is wasted. Romney's Orca machine has so far generated 2.4 million wasted calls but 3.6 million hit homes with voters.
The targeting efficiency was revealed in the ABC/WaPo poll, that Romney's system was able to catch on average 54% of Romney supporters vs 25% Democrats and the remainder undecided or unsure voters. Remember, this is not an actively learning system, which would be used in the weeks leading up to the election, which would refine its data as it went along. Orca was taken into use on election day. No learning. So the performance success rate as measured by ABC/WaPo is very likely near identical on election day.
Lets use that percentage of success (ignoring the negative calls) and we have 54% of the remaining calls hitting Romney supporters. Thats 1.9 Million voters. Now comes the sad part about Robocalls. A Pew study of this year's election and Robocalls, 64% of voters who received robocalls did not listen to them. Thats still another two thirds wasted. Of Romney's 6 million outbound calls, only 700,000 reached Romney voters who actually listened to the robocall. Here comes the next bad bit. Of those who received the call, 28% had already voted. So that leaves 500,000 actually useful, beneficial calls, out of 6 million made, that could generate actual voters. How effective is a telephone reminder on voting day? A survey of this year's election voters by inc/WomanTrend found that a phone call would activate a voter in 18% of the cases (vs 57% by Facebook, 50% by SMS text message, etc). Take the 500,000 Romney supporters who had not voted yet, and this immense Romney GOTV effort likely added the Romney total vote count nationally by 90,000 votes. Romney lost by more than 3 million, to put it in context.
Now lets compared to Narwhal. Obama's campaign made 11 million calls on election day. These were all to pre-qualified Obama supporters. None of the calls went to Obama supporters who had already voted early. None went to Romney supporters and none went to non-voting households. Remember, the Narwhal system learns and adapts as it goes along. By voting day, they had far more than 11 million target numbers of voters who supported Obama (but not too loyally) and were expected to vote but could use a reminder.
The effect is directly that 18% conversion from 11 million calls. 2 million votes gained. This is two thirds of the Obama vote margin right here! But wait, it gets better.
SMS TO CALL ANOTHER VOTER
Obama had many truly devious tricks in its sleeve. We have only heard of a few, like the mailer that went to many Obama supporters that 'gamified' voting, giving the voter a 'report card' on voting behavior in the past, compared to his neighborhood as an average, trying to bring gamifying effects to voting. But my fave is the SMS message on voting day. Obama of course sent voting reminders via SMS text message to everyone in their database who had not voted yet, and who had given their cellphone number to the Obama campaign. That is not news, they did that very effectively already four years ago. This time? What do you do, if you've voted early? What do you do, if you voted already today? You are worried Obama might lose. They are not even asking for more money now - the 4 million who contributed cash, the cash donations aren't really what would help now. What could help?
The ultimate SMS text message. The Obama campaign sent to
its supporters a very simple SMS text message. Would you like to make one phone
call on behalf of the President? Reply to this message, we'll send you one
phone number to call a voter.
Imagine the power of this! Obama had 60 million voters. 4 million contributed cash. Absolutely certainly, the number of people willing to make one phone call on Obama's behalf is at least bigger than the 4 million (a call costing much less than even a 10 dollar contribution). The electorate supporting Obama was very enthusiastic. If we only say that 10% of Obama voters were willing to make that one call is of course 6 million more calls. Remember this is driven by Narwhal. These are all prequalified calls, to the 'next tier' of voters that the 11 million primary calling effort would not reach - and these were again, prioritized and targeted, a nurse would be given another nurse's number to call in the same state so its not an expensive call.
Imagine if you voted in early October and were just willing to do anything to help the campaign now? This is perfect voter activation for a bit of a bigger push. Lets say, it was 'only' 6 million who responded to that SMS text message and volunteered to make the one call. (and I'd argue there probably was a far bigger base for this, because many non-voters could also volunteer to do this, etc, but lets keep this simple). Lets say only half of these resulted in a positive effort. Remember, these are unsolicited calls from unknown numbers to those targets, and these are truly 'rough' volunteers who had not been trained to be persuasive Obama callers. They didn't have a script to use, etc. But also, if a recent military vet, strong Obama supporter, calls another recent military vet, who is also at least a modest level Obama supporter - those calls would usually be very friendly and certainly the effort would be at least as good as any robocall, and likely more effective. Lets say half went through on election day, in time to get the target still to vote.
It would still add 3 million more successful calls to the 11 million already achieved by Obama's army of 200,000 manning the phone banks! This SMS activation reminder to 6 million supporters alone would achieve 5 times better voter performance than the TOTAL Republican volunteer army of 34,000 who drove location-based calls to the 800 staff manning the Romney phone banks, directing robocalls to promising area codes. And at 18% conversion to votes, those 3 million calls would still add half a million more votes to the Obama tally! In total, just the phone banking effort would produce 2.5 million more votes for Obama, vs less than 100,000 total gain for Romney. Obama's efficiency differential is 2.4 million in the final vote tally.
Then lets talk Social Media a little bit - Communities Dominate after all, the founding principle of this blog all those years ago. Yes. Both sides had big social media efforts this time. Four years ago McCain was pretty clueless in the digital space, now at least Romney was well on the ball. Their total Facebook and Twitter follower numbers were quite far apart still, Obama had 32 million Facebook friends to 12 million for Romney; and Obama utterly dominated Romney on Twitter with 23 million followers to Romney's 2 million. But that includes the youth and foreigners and interested parties who are not voters.
The Pew study days before the election, of registered voters, found that 20% of Obama supporters and 18% of Romney supporters were following the candidates on social media as in Twitter or Facebook. When we calculate the RV support according to Pew (49% Obama, 42% Romney) we get 12.7 Million unique social media actual registered voters for Obama and 9.8 million for Romney. As Obama's campaign had attracted 32M FB followers and 23M Twitter followers, obviously these included foreigners, teenagers ineligible to vote, and unregistered voter-age followers, plus plenty of overlap. It would be fair to assume, most of Obama's 12.7 million were both on FB and TW. Of Romney's 9.8 million, we know only 1.75 million were on TW, so 8.1 million would be only reachable via Facebook and likely most TW followers would also be on FB.
So while Obama had three times the number of friends on FB
and six times the followers on TW, in reality, counting 'either' method, Romney
was able to reach 9.8 million to Obama's 12.7 million. That is reasonably
close, in particular where the social media are used far more by the youth - a
key Obama supporter demographic - than the elderly - a key Romney demographic.
Lets remove those who had already voted in early voting (who would still be
following their candidate in social media) and assign the 57% activation
percentage to both sides, we get 2.1 million activated voters on FB by Obama
and 1.6 million by Romney, ie a modest gain for Obama of half a million votes.
BUT... That assumes all Romney FB activations were guided by pre-qualified leads by Orca - something Orca was unable to do. It may be, that Romney also had some other ways to track its Facebook friends to monitor who had for example voted already today, or was standing in line to vote - many would Tweet or post Facebook updates as they were standing in line to vote - but there is no word on that being so. Clearly Obama's Narwhal was able to update and know who had voted. So Obama's 2.1 million activated by Facebook would mostly be 'added' to the above totals, whereas, Romney's 1.6 million would 'overlap' the other activation methods.
I cannot in any way emphasize how enormous the advantage for Obama was out of 109,000 volunteers knocking on doors. The total Romney volunteer team was 34,000 mostly for phone banking. Obama had 200,000 for the phones, but another 109,000 to hit the streets. And they hit 7 million homes. These were not random homes, these were all targeted by Narwhal, so every one of those homes was a good Obama voting prospect. It would include getting those to vote who had problems, like not having transportation, or perhaps having had an accident recently so was unable to drive the car this week, or perhaps being disabled, etc. And we can be sure, Narwhal also calculated the number of potential Obama voters in that household, so the average voters was something at least 1.5 persons per targeted door. So we're looking at 10.5 million voters in rough terms. And if the best measured effect of telephone, SMS and social media contacts would achieve 57% voting activation, but they didnt' measure home visits - I am certain, the home visits generate even better voter response than any other of those means.
What percent do we say? If we say 70%, it would mean that of the 10.5 million voters visited at home, 7.4 million turned out to vote for Obama. That number - is twice Obama's total national voter margin. This is no doubt the single most expensive component of project Narwhal, but this is also why Chicago put a third of its total volunteer army on this aspect. 7.4 million votes! If Narwhal really was that good at predicting who to target, that most of these 7.4 million would not have shown up without the home visit - if we say one third would have anyway but two thirds would not have, then without these home visits, alone, Obama would have lost the election by 49% to 50% and Romney would now be President.
Romney camp was up and down, emotionally. They were in panic
one day and exuberant the next day. They felt they had a chance in
Pennsylvania, they thought they would win at least 7 of the 9 battleground
states, and when they used the data coming in from the flawed untested Orca,
the top team in Boston were totally convinced still at 4 pm, that they were
winning the election.
Meanwhile Chicago knew. They had tested their system before, they knew their own data was more accurate than any market driven polling, and they had used Narwhal to drive the voting day activities and they knew very well during election day, that it was all going their way. When Obama asked the top 3 advisors what would be the final count, Jim Messina, the pessimist felt Obama would lose Florida and North Carolina. David Axelrod the optimist felt Obama would win both of those states. David Plouffe, driven by the math, said North Carolina would be lost but Florida would be won. All three were in no doubt that the other 7 battleground states, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin would be won by the President (as they were). And all knew Pennsylvania would not be in play, and that there was no chance of picking up another state such as Indiana which Obama won in 2008 or Missouri which Obama narrowly lost (both states now with 'rape guys' on the Republican side losing badly their campaigns to get to the Senate). That is how precise these guys were. All three predicted within one state exactly how the battle ended. The numbers guy got even Florida called correctly, which took four days after the election to count to its finish. Thats how incredibly accurate Narwhal was in its voter measurement. Flawless!
The Romney campaign honestly believed they were winning, late into the afternoon on Election Day Tuesday. Even as the numbers in reality, in many of those battleground states were not even close - Romney lost Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada by four to five percent. That should have been pretty obvious to their system if it had been tested and calibrated and had good data coming in. That is why Romney's team was so 'shell-shocked' and why Romney hadn't even bothered to write a draft speech in case he lost. He was told by his data guys, that all was ok, the election was in the bag, they were winning.
COMPARE ADDITIVE TO OVERLAP MODELS
The beauty - and cost - of Narwhal was its targeting
insights. It is an additive model which removes those already targeted. By
contrast, the Orca model was a shotgun approach, shoot roughly in the right
direction and hit more than average number of Republican supporters. Lets put
these side-by-side, to see the effect (I am allocating independent and
undecided voters by their actual votes in 2008 and 2012 into either Democrat or
Republican). The data here used is either actual election results where we have
those, or the last good polls that gave that given data point. In a few cases I
made my own guess but tried to keep it very friendly to Romney, and I indicated
by asterisk * where I used a very Romney-friendly assumption which may be found
later, not to have been that good.
ITEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . OBAMA . . . . . . . . ROMNEY (or McCain in 2008)
Actual votes 2008 . . . . . . . . .. 70 M . . . . . . . . . . . 62 M (McCain votes obviously)
Registered Voters 2008 . . . . . . 75 M . . . . . . . . . . . 70 M
New Registered Voters . . . . . . . 2 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 M
Total RV in 2012 . . . . . . . . . . 77 M . . . . . . . . . . . 71 M
Voted Early 28% (Pew) . . . . . . 21.6 M . . . . . . . . . 19.9 M
Actual vote 2012 (est) . . . . . . . 64.0 M . . . . . . . . . 60.5 M
Voted election day . . . . . . . . . 42.4 M . . . . . . . . . 40.6 M
Total phone numbers . . . . . . . 16.3 M . . . . . . . . . 16.3 M
Supporter ph numbers (ABC) . 11.1 M . . . . . . . . . . 8.3 M
Cellphone pct (Tomi guess) . . . 70% . . . . . . . . . . . . 50%
SMS capable numbers . . . . . . 7.8 M . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2 M
Facebook friends . . . . . . . . . . . 32 M . . . . . . . . . . . 12 M
Voters on FB/TW . . . . . . . . . . 12.7 M . . . . . . . . . . 9.8 M
Know 28% voted early . . . . . . . 3.6 M . . . . . . . . . .
2.7 M *
FB voters left to vote . . . . . . . . 9.1 M . . . . . . . . . . 7.1 M
TUESDAY Election Day
Banked votes . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21.6 M . . . . . . .
. . . 19.9 M
Facebook Reminders . . . . . . . . 9.1 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.1 M
at 57% will vote gains . . . . . . . . 5.2 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.0 M
Wasted FB attempts . . . . . . . . 3.9 M . . . . . . . . .
. . . 3.1 M
Visit homes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Assume 1.5 voters/home . . . . 10.5 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Get 70% to vote . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.4 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Wasted home visits . . . . . . . . . 2.1 M . . . . . . . . .
. . . 0.0 M
Total phone bank calls . . . . . . 11.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.0 M
Wasted calling non-voters . . . . . 0% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40%
Reach voters . . . . . . . . . . . . 11.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.6 M
Voters already voted early . . . . . 0% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28%
Reach unvoted voters . . . . . . 11.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.6 M
Voters hit by FB & voting . . . . . . 0% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10%
Reach unvoted/unvoting voters 11.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.3 M
Robocall avoids . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64%
Reach voters willing to listen . 11.0 M . . . . . . . . .
. . 820,000
Get 18% to polls today . . . . . . 1.2 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 90,000
Wasted phone calls . . . . . . . . . 9.8 M . . . . . . .
. . . . . 5.9 M
SMS to Ask to Call Supporter . . 6.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Call goes through to voter . . . . . 3.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
(this is pre-qualified, Obama supporter, has not voted yet)
Get 18% to polls today . . . . . . . . 540,000 . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Wasted SMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.5 M . . . . . . .
. . . . . 0.0 M
Email total addresses of voters . 23.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . 13.0 M
Remove those who voted . . . . . 28% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0%
Remove home visits & FB . . . . 38% . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . 17% *
Emails sent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.8 M . . . . . . . . . . . 10.8 M
Hit voters already voted . . . . . . 0.0 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.6 M
Hit likely voters . . . . . . . . . . . 7.8 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.2 M
emails not opened in time . . . . . 80% . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80%
emails opened in time . . . . . . 1.6 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.4 M
activating to vote . . . . . . . . . . . 33% . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33%
Total votes gained . . . . . . . . . . 530,000 . . . . . . . . . . 460,000
Wasted Emails . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.3 M . . . . . . . .
. . . . 10.3 M
SMS capable cellphones . . . . . 7.8 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2 M *
Already voted/not reminded . . . . 28% . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0%
Already activated FB/home . . . . 38% . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0%
SMS text vote reminder sent . . 2.6 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2 M
Hit already voted . . . . . . . . . . . . 0% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28%
Already voting via FB . . . . . . . . . 0% . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . 17%
Hit phone targets now voting . . . 4% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0%
Reach voters not reminded . . . 2.5 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.3 M
Activation Pct . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50% . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50%
Net voters gained . . . . . . . . . . 1.3 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2 M
Wasted SMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.0 M
Banked votes . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21.6 M . . . . . . . . . . 19.9 M
Facebook/TW activation . . . . . . 5.2 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.0 M *
Home visits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.4 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Phone bank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.1 M
SMS to Ask to Call . . . . . . . . . . 0.5 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.0 M
Email . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.5 M . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.5 M
SMS reminders . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3 M . . . . . . . .
. . . . 1.2 M *
TOTAL GOTV ACHIEVED . . . 37.7 M . . . . . . . . . . . 25.7 M
Out of all votes won . . . . . . . . . 61% . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44%
TOTAL GOTV election day . . . 16.1 M . . . . . . . . . . . 5.8 M
Out of votes won election day . 38.3% . . . . . . . . . . . 14.5%
TOTAL PERFORMANCE ATTEMPT/VOTE/WASTED
Facebook . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9.1/5.2/3.9 . . . . . . . . . . 7.1/4.0/3.1
Home visits (by voters) . . . 10.5/7.4/3.1 . . . . . . . . . 0/0/0
Phone calls (campaign) . . . 11.0/1.2/9.8 . . . . . . . . . 6.0/0.1/5.9
SMS/call (via supporter) . . . 6.0/0.5/5.5 . . . . . . . . . . 0/0/0
Email reminder . . . . . . . . . 7.8/0.5/7.3 . . . . . . . . . . 10.8/0.5/10.3
SMS reminder . . . . . . . . . 2.6/1.3/1.3 . . . . . . . . .
Total contacts . . . . . . . . . 47.2/16.1/30.9 . . . . . . . .28.1/5.8/22.3
Actual contacts to voters . . 47.2 million . . . . . . . . . 28.1 million
is percent of your voters . . . 76% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48%
Contact efficiency . . . . . . . 34% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21%
Waste contact percentage . 66% . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79%
TOTAL VOTES GAINED . . 16.1 million . . . . . . . . . . 5.8 million
Difference in votes . . . . . . 10.3 million to Obama
Outperform/underperform . . 2.8 to 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 to 2.8
Axelrod's ground game in the end, reached 67% more of Obama's actual voters, than what the Romney machine was able to reach of his. The efficiency of the Obama contacts was such, that one of every three contacts resulted in a vote for Obama, where the Romney machine could only generate one out of every five contacts resulting in a Romney vote. The net-net result? The Ground Game or 'Get-Out-The-Vote' produced 10.3 million more votes to Obama when the margin will end up likely less than 4 million votes when all votes are finally counted. The Obama side outperformed the Romney side by the GOTV effort by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1 (2.8 to 1). And this collection of data and analysis in my blog, still includes some very Romney-friendly assumptions, the reality may have been even worse for Romney's side.
I WISH I KNEW
And there is much we really don't know. Now how big should the home visit benefit be? I used 70%. I would guess, if you target Obama-friendly homes, and send a volunteer on election day, that will be a higher turnout than 70%. Is it 80% or 85% or 90%, who knows. Hopefully we'll get some measures reported down the line some day. I think this part of my model is very likely to under-count Obama's advantage.
What of the number of cellphone numbers collected - I used the levels of 7.8 million for Obama and 4.2 million for Romney. Did Romney's side collect specific cellphone data or just collect phone numbers not delineating between landlines and cellphones. We know Obama was regularly using SMS alerts. Did Romney do that, did they have mass-SMS texting capability? We don't know now, hopefully we will find out. But if Obama had 2.9 million cellphone numbers in the summer of 2008, and must have had many more by election day 2008, how many did it have now? I hope to know some day. I am sure every one of those, that had not yet voted, would have received the SMS reminder on election day. Did Romney do that? Hopefully we'll learn that.
Of the Facebook friends, did Romney's campaign collect data of who had voted? Did they knew which of their FB friends was a registered voter? Did they send a voting reminder (they must have, but did they?). And of that brilliant Obama team plan to get supporters to volunteer to make a call. I hope we learn some day how many of those SMS text message requests went out from the campaign, and if there is any metric on how many actually made that call further to an Obama supporter.
I would love to know how many profiled and targeted Narwahl voters were in the system. I am guessing that is such a secret, it never is revealed, as Narwhal will be used in the next mid-term elections in 2014 and again in the 2016 Presidential elections, with the data only more refined and perfected.
If any of my readers finds any further details of these metrics this election in some news story or blog post or survey or report, please leave the info in the comments.
IN THE END
The difference in the total vote is currently about 3 million votes (might get near 4M when all votes are counted) that Obama got more than Romney. On election day, giving some very positive assumptions for Romney's Orca machine, that it was intelligent enough in Facebook and SMS reminders, we still get a huge advantage for Obama's Narwhal machine. Obama's team was able to reach 16 million who voted for Obama on election day vs Romney's team able to reach (in the best case) nearly 6 million of his voters. Obama's team hit 38% of the Democratic voters who turned up to vote on election day, vs under 15% for Romney. That is a totally insurmountable lead. 16 million to 6 million gives Obama's team a 10 million cushion. If the GOTV effort had been tied - both teams doing as well - Romney would have won by 1 million votes. That is what it means. While Romney's Orca was a gigantic and valiant effort, and it was able to mobilize and target Republican GOTV efforts to an unprecedented degree, for the Republican side, they essentially matched now in 2012, what Obama already did in 2008. The Obama team took that performance from four years ago, and went ballistic, went nuclear. They utterly devastated the Republican effort. And I'm pretty sure, that those Romney Orca field team, who saw Obama actions, were bewildered by the sheer number of Obama supporters hitting houses and getting Democratic voters to the polls. When you are outnumbered by 10 to 1, you will sense that difference on the ground.
Incidentially, how realistic is that calculation in the above? The pre-election race was, if you remember 125 million contacts vs 50 million contacts in favor of Obama, a ratio of 2.5 to 1. Now, on election day this math suggests Team Obama delivered actual votes 16.1 Million to 5.8 Million, which is a ratio of 2.8 to 1. I think it is reasonable to assume the above is close to correct and when we remember, Obama's team had over 300,000 volunteers to Romney's 34,000 and Obama's machine was fully tested and all staff trained, and worked without a hitch, but the Romney machine was not tested and trained, and had tons of problems, yes, the real performance is likely better than 2.8 to 1, and could be as big as 10 to 1. For that, we'd need to know more data.
But its fascinating to see how this technology difference could be so enormous, and you wonder how one side could end up so outgunned, in particular, as the Republicans this year were supposed to be swimming in money so money should not have been the problem.
This is no doubt a one-off election. Chicago had 4 years to build a superior army and strategy, knowing the rivals would have to go through a long primary and would have very little time to try to build anything to match it. For 2014 mid-terms an the 2016 Presidential election, the biggest hurdle for Republicans, going from paper 'strike lists' to a digital social media enabled smartphone enabled system, has been taken. Now their system can do 16 million voters while the Obama machine can handle 175 million voters. So now, its a question of upgrading the Republican machine, up by a whole order of magnitude. It will cost money and time, but the nature of technology means, that it won't cost them as much next year, as it cost Obama last year.. So the Republicans will roughly return to 'parity'. And in that arms race, they will have no doubt many innovations they will bring in, which threatens the Chicago based machine becoming outclassed. The likely effect in especially the 2016 election is very possibly even, or no more than a plus/minus 10% gain for either side. In that case, this was the 'Communities Dominate' election. Congratulations President Obama, and the team over there in Chicago, Axelrod, Plouffe and Messina, and your data guys led by James Harper Reed, Rayid Ghani and Michael Slaby and no doubt many other math geeks and data nerds.
One more important thing. This was the Get-Out-The-Vote race between the two camps. The reason Obama's side was able to activate so many Democrats was not because they had a great machine to do so, it was because Obama's message resonated well with voters in the middle, who rejected Romney's message. This race was won and lost by the candidates and their messages. But with a winning message, Obama's side was also able to then activate more of their supporters than Romney on his side. But remember, right from the start, the Democratic side has held a huge lead in registered voters, something like 80 million to 73 million - so if both sides had their full supporter base this year 2012 to show up in the polls, Obama was guaranteed to win - and win big. The Republicans knew this very well, which is why they were so eager to engage in the nasty campaigning of 'voter suppression' in many states where the Republicans had control of local politics and voting. That in turn was witnessed in the nasty long voting lines in many Democratic-leaning precincts such as in Southern Florida.
But I do want to make this point, Romney was already losing the race going INTO election day. He was successfully painted as a corporate raider nasty guy you wouldn't trust to run the economy, by the Obama TV ad campaigns of the summer. His Convention was a disaster and the 47% video pretty well sealed Romney's chances. While the Obama first debate then gave Romney some recovery, that bounce had receeded by the third debate and Romney was again losing by the time Hurricane Sandy rolled in to hit the final nails into Romney's coffin. If Romney's message and personal likability had been well above those of the President, this ground game advantage would not have mattered. The Ground Game cannot change the electorate, but what it can do - is to bring the maximum of your side to the polling places. And that, is what Axelrod's magnificent machine achieved this November. Never in the history of elections, has a Ground Game been so incredibly efficient and prodcutive, in bringing your side to the polls.
UPDATE 6 DECEMBER - I have completed my search, research and analysis into the details and data of the voter information, data-mining and activation efforts of Narwhal vs Orca. I have far more accurate data filling in most missing pieces. You may enjoy this article on the math and final performance metrics of the two rival systems in Definitive Article on the Performance of Narwhal vs Orca