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Obama’s Victory Is a Win for Big Data

Unprecedented data operation was a major factor in the president’s re-election.

TUCSON, ARIZ. — President Barack Obama’s re-election last week wasn’t just a win for Democrats — it was also a victory for big data, according to Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for Time magazine and MSNBC.

Halperin, speaking Monday at e.Republic’s annual leadership retreat in Tucson, called Obama’s re-election effort the most technologically sophisticated campaign ever run, helping the president to prevail despite the sluggish economy, a rocky relationship with business leaders and rabid Republican Party opposition. Advanced data mining techniques were used to pinpoint Obama supporters — particularly women and immigrants — and then the campaign shrewdly used social media to ensure that those voters went to the polls.

“The Obama campaign targeted the nine states that were competitive, and they engaged in a very focused effort to get the majority of votes in those states,” said Halperin. “In almost every one of those states, they hit their targets perfectly.”

He said the campaign purchased all of the commercial data it could find, and then supplemented that information with data collected by field staff that went door-to-door. Purchased data and field staff findings were fed into a single massive database that was mined to produce a remarkably precise road map for success.

“They knew the election would be very close, but they knew they were going to win” Halperin said. “They were down to the household and individual level. They knew who their voters were.”

Republicans, besides having a political message that didn’t appeal to many women and minority voters, found themselves badly outgunned on the technology front. “Three months ago, Obama had more people doing technology than Mitt Romney had in total working on his campaign,” Halperin said. “It’s the largest operation of its type ever put together.”

Given Obama’s surprisingly strong finish in last week’s election — including victories in all but one of the nine “battleground” states — Halperin expects the president to work out a deal with legislative leaders to avoid the looming fiscal cliff, which would trigger tax increases and federal budget cuts in early 2013 if left unresolved. Ultimately, he said, Obama also may have a good chance at reviving some version of last year’s failed “grand bargain,” aimed at reducing the federal budget deficit by trimming entitlement spending and increasing revenue collection.

“I’m optimistic the president can do this,” Halperin said. Although the deal is likely to lean Democratic, he said there is support in Washington and among business leaders for a deficit deal that avoids the extremes on either side of the political spectrum. “The president needs to act in a bipartisan way, and if he can get this done, it will unfreeze a lot of other things.”


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.