Democracy and data-mining

Time magazine reports: In late spring, the backroom number crunchers who powered Barack Obama’s campaign to victory noticed that George Clooney had an almost gravitational tug on West Coast females ages 40 to 49. The women were far and away the single demographic group most likely to hand over cash, for a chance to dine in Hollywood with Clooney — and Obama.

So as they did with all the other data collected, stored and analyzed in the two-year drive for re-election, Obama’s top campaign aides decided to put this insight to use. They sought out an East Coast celebrity who had similar appeal among the same demographic, aiming to replicate the millions of dollars produced by the Clooney contest. “We were blessed with an overflowing menu of options, but we chose Sarah Jessica Parker,” explains a senior campaign adviser. And so the next Dinner with Barack contest was born: a chance to eat at Parker’s West Village brownstone.

For the general public, there was no way to know that the idea for the Parker contest had come from a data-mining discovery about some supporters: affection for contests, small dinners and celebrity. But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions. [Continue reading…]

Although this article claims to pull back the curtain on the Obama campaign’s data-mining operation, what’s revealed is actually less informative than what appeared in a Mother Jones report by Tim Murphy who dug up the information himself rather than having it spoon fed by campaign officials.

Murphy described his findings on Democracy Now! last month:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “Democracy and data-mining

  1. BillVZ

    “Basically we have a new world of information management that has emerged, and it’s a world that may well claim total impunity from regulation”

    Interesting enough, post election articles on campaign use of data mining appear appropriate to fuel the ‘what do we write about now’ mode of election news aftermath.
    Murphy’s complete piece at Mother Jones was very informative and with some insights for all to ponder on what is known about each of us and in whose ‘hands’ that info is in.

    For further interest a bit of fiction is usually in order for consideration too:
    “1984” and “Brave New World” gave us a brief glimpse of the world they feared we were creating but suspense novelist/mystery writer Jeffery Deaver’s “The Broken Window”(2009) takes it over the top. Every reader will shiver as they come to grips with the realization of just how much the state likely knows about their life. Paul Weiss Amazon book review

Comments are closed.