Future

Republicans' Mega Tech Disadvantage Could Sink Them Again In 2016

Mostly old-style still with the GOP
Mostly old-style still with the GOP
RNC
Grace Wyler

The Republican Party's losses in last week's election have brought about a moment of reckoning for conservatives, as GOP leaders, grassroots activists, and political strategists try to make sense of their defeat and figure out how the party can rebuild itself before the next election cycle.

By most accounts, Republicans were stunned by the election outcome, which exposed deep structural flaws that have put the party at an ideological, demographic, and strategic disadvantage when it comes to winning presidential elections.

Nowhere were the GOP's shortcomings more apparent than in the realm of data gathering and microtargeting, an increasingly important field of electioneering that provides campaigns with crucial insights into the nature of the electorate.

In interviews with Business Insider, Republican campaign strategists cited the GOP's data disadvantage as the central weakness holding the party back.

"As the Republican Party determines what it's going to do with itself, how it is going to restructure, the clock continues to tick," said Cyrus Krohn, a former director of digital strategy for the Republican National Committee and co-founder of the microtargeting startup Crowd Verb. "This is a problem that we cannot wait until six months before the midterm cycle to address."

Once a Republican campaign strength — Karl Rove was known for his mastery of microtargeting during George W. Bush's presidential campaigns — Krohn explained that Democrats made a concerted effort to catch up after the 2004 election, using dynamic data to complement the static data used by Republicans.

The result, he said, is a powerful apparatus with years of data insights, which far surpasses anything that has been developed on the Republican side.

Leveraging data

"Data begets data, so the larger data that you have, the more insights you derive from it," Krohn said. "Basically what's happened now is the Republican Party has been working off of current but static data, not enabling hooks for information to flow freely in and out of the data base."

"That brings us to 2012, when no matter how sophisticated an offering you create, you've got a finite amount of data that you can leverage because you don't have the history of information at your disposal," he said. "So we can't see what was happening in the 2010 election, or over the course of the 2012 cycle, and amend it to our database."

"What's troubling is that until the Republican Party decides that they have this data problem, and invest in something quickly, every day that goes by, the Democrats are collecting more and more data."

Although the very nature of microtargeting data makes it hard for outsiders to assess, it's hard to underestimate its importance as a campaign tool, and thus the magnitude of the GOP's data problem.

At a very basic level, Democrats have used microtargeting to more accurately identify persuadable voters, and then target resources and materials in a way that maximizes the campaign's ability to win over those individual voters. Beyond voting, the data has helped campaigns to identify and mobilize their supporters, and then persuade them to engage in social networks and accomplish specific tasks like donating money, canvassing, making phone calls, etc. And at every step, more information is collected on these voters and fed back into the system.

"When you look at a political organization you have multiple facets — finance, communications, GOTV operations — if all of those different divisions are operating in silos and not sharing their data, then the sum isn't any greater than the parts," Krohn said. "The reasons that Democrats have gotten so ahead is because sharing of information and the give and take of data is not deployed into a silo system, but into a central nervous system that informs all aspects of the campaigns."

Even if the GOP is able to match the basic capabilities of Democrats' centralized data systems, some Republicans said it's not likely to be enough to close the data gap. After gaining a huge edge on Republicans in terms of raw data in 2008, Democrats — and specifically the Obama campaign — continued to take microtargeting to the next level in 2012, incorporating social science to inform data with insights from behavioral psychology and field experiments.

Too much flash

"A big part of the problem in 2012 was that the Romney guys were trying to beat Obama in 2008," said one GOP digital strategist, who asked not to be named in order to speak freely about the party. "They weren't doing what the Obama campaign was doing in 2012."

The strategist noted that the Romney campaign, like other Republicans, appeared to suffer from a focus on flashy technology that didn't translate into success with voters — a problem best exemplified by the Project ORCA disaster.

"A lot of effort was put into doing things that are shiny and new. They obviously thought it was going to be useful or cool or worth promoting," the strategist said. "At the end of the day, if you don't get voters to go vote and you don't get volunteers to make phone calls to get them to vote, none of it matters."

"You see this superficial stuff coming out of the Republican side and it's not going to be enough," the strategist added. "Maybe the party as a whole just needs to dig a little deeper."

The consequences of not closing the data gap were made painfully clear to Republicans last Tuesday, when the vote tallies revealed that the GOP had badly misjudged the electorate.

"The assumptions in the data we were using that was provided by the RNC — which was the same data all the campaigns were using — on election day the data wasn't a close fit," Republican strategist Dave Carney told Business Insider. "Clearly they didn't know what was going on. There seems to have been a disconnect with what was going on on the ground."

"If you know, for example, that there is an aggressive turnout effort to jack-up the African American vote in Cleveland, and that they're going to jack up the African American vote to 12 percent or 15 percent in Ohio, well that's a huge, huge difference, because you know that Obama is going to get 90 percent of those voters," Carney explained. "You need to adjust your tactics, you need to turn more people out. ... That's where all this fancy data is supposed to help."

But as the Republican Party looks to patch itself back together going into the 2014 midterm elections, Carney cautioned against an overemphasis on data and technology.

"The tools themselves don't help you if you don't have the basic fundamental parts of a campaign," he said. "The messenger and the message moves voters. There is a lot you can do technologically — there are a lot of tactics — but in the end, the candidate is still what drives the message."

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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