Folks are abuzz about how the candidates are rollin’ and Tumbloggin’ around the Internet, trying to become more Pinteresting. Most of the discussion this year seems to center around what folks in the Web world call the front-end — turning GIFs, (now old-fashioned) web videos, and CSS and HTML5 effects into weapons of mass political destruction. Beyond its head-turning message, an underappreciated fact about the Obama campaign’s “Life of Julia” is that it was the first parallax slider-based campaign attack in American history.
But while the media and the pundits focus on how visual media is reshaping the debate, something else is going on. The Guardian reports this week that the Obama campaign’s long-awaited grassroots toolkit, with the minimalist name of “Dashboard,” is almost ready for public release:
The Dashboard project is being led by Michael Slaby, one of Obama’s digital gurus, along with Joe Rospars and Teddy Goff and Obama’s director of field organizing Jeremy Bird. Collectively, they have been quietly reinventing traditional presidential races for the wired age.
They have put together a team of more than 100 statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organisers at the Obama For America headquarters in downtown Chicago, which has been labouring since its start to craft a new generation of digital campaign tools.
They are keeping specific details about Dashboard heavily under wraps for fear that they might lose the substantial advantage they now enjoy over their rivals in the Romney campaign.
They have also been keen not to reveal the tool until it has undergone substantial testing by staff. All that the Obama team will say is that it represents a major step forward that could “make a huge difference in how we organise for 2012″.
Dashboard, they add, will allow any volunteer for the first time “to join, connect with and build your neighbourhood team online”.
One intriguing fact about Dashboard is how late its’ introduction comes compared to 2008. That year, My.BarackObama.com was launched on the first day of the campaign, in February 2007. By this measure, Dashboard is 15 months late. But there’s good reason for it: Unlike the out-of-the-box Blue State Digital tools that formed the core of MyBO in 2008, Dashboard was rebuilt from the ground-up, using in-house developers, some of them recruited from Facebook and Google. (The person overseeing it all, Obama campaign CTO Harper Reed, is himself a startup veteran recruited from Threadless.)
We’ll have to wait for the formal launch — it’s apparently been in use by field staff for months, and I’m not on the early invite list for these things — but from all appearances, Dashboard represents an admirable commitment by the Obama campaign to rethinking older (and successful) ways of doing things. And doing so in a way that elevates raw engineering talent in a way they didn’t in 2008.
Dashboard should also spark a renewed debate about what’s important in digital campaigns.
At the end of the day, anyone can build a Facebook page with millions of likes. Anyone can set up a Tumblr in 5 minutes and anyone with a decent sense of humor can spin up GIFs and QuickMemes, and push them to Reddit, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. The hard stuff — the interesting stuff — is marshaling an army of engineers and data geeks to translate online energy into better and more effective offline voter contact. The meme war might be more interesting, but it’s playing out almost exclusively among political operatives and the media elite. In a close race, ground game matters, and candidates who don’t prioritize putting their ground game online will find themselves playing catchup. We learned this in 2010, when even with the political winds at their back, Republicans faced an organizational deficit and fell short in a number of key Senate races.
Winning online takes more than a Twitter account and a WordPress plugin. It takes serious engineering resources to build sophisticated grassroots and microtargeting tools like the Obama campaign is doing, and data scientists to optimize the vote. In recent years, “custom” has become a four letter word in the world of web development, but the proliferation of programming frameworks from Ruby on Rails to CakePHP to CodeIgniter mean that developers no longer have to spend time reinventing the wheel. Basic functional components you would see on most websites (like user registration modules, or formulas to calculate distances and directions) come pre-built, so that engineers can spend time on the things that add value. Coding itself is becoming more like building a site in WordPress or Drupal.
Communicators and social media experts are a dime-a-dozen. They’re important, but it takes a lot to stand out from the pack. Good engineers are harder to come by, and the Obama campaign has invested in them in spades. As I argued at a recent panel at the CampaignTech conference, this starts with campaigns and political groups working with and valuing engineers and data scientists in the same way that they currently work with and value video producers, print designers, and press people.
With the general election in full swing, it will be interesting to see the level of game the GOP brings to the battle of the engineers.
However, the number of people talking about a given candidate isn’t the most interesting number.
What we really wanted to get at was the number of people who might hear this buzz. Mashing up the “Talking About Number” with another recent feature release in Facebook Pages, we’ve been able to come up with an estimate, and have updated our daily tracking spreadsheet accordingly.
The number is staggering: recently, an estimated 230 million impressions of posts from someone’s friend mentioning Barack Obama or a Republican Presidential candidate in news feeds: 140.5 million for Obama, and 89.9 million for the GOP field combined. This includes 24.1 million for Ron Paul, 22.7 million for Herman Cain, and 19.1 million for Mitt Romney.
How did we come up with this number?
The recent upgrade to Facebook Insights for pages includes a telling stat: the number of people who are friends with your fans. Since we administer quite a number of pages for political figures, we decided to figure out how many average friends a politically plugged in Facebook might have. The average was over 350 friends across numerous pages (it was never less than 300 for any page). We think this is also representative of the people who would share content about a Presidential candidate.
If you want to know why everyone seems to know about the Herman Cain smoking ad, viral distribution on social media is a big piece of the puzzle, because the multiplier effect of even a single person sharing it is huge: hundreds of people are now aware that it exists.
Of course, these numbers don’t tell us how many unique people saw the buzz: some friends may overlap, some people may not log into Facebook daily, and some may have stories hidden from the news feed. Even if the real number is half this, that’s more people than voted in the last Presidential election — and we’re just talking about Facebook users.
And, at a very minimum, this research suggests that’s highly likely that the average American Facebook user has seen something about the Presidential candidates from one of their friends in the news feed — and given that a personal endorsement from a friend is one of the most important driver of voting, that’s significant.
This also highlights the tremendous opportunity for candidates to effectively use Facebook and other social media platforms as leverage to gain mindshare among average voters. Ron Paul was able to push up his numbers in recent days through extensive social media sharing of his recent moneybomb. Through the Multiply platform here at Engage, we’ve been working on ways to create structured Facebook sharing calls to action that can generate hundreds of thousands of news feed impressions with just a few hundred people taking action.
As you can tell, we’re very excited about this upgrade to our Facebook tracking, and hope you’ll check it out daily.
At Engage, we’re huge believers in data. And oftentimes, the most interesting data is hidden in plain sight.
One of the huge shifts in online politics in recent years is the accountability and transparency imposed by public video view, follower, fan, and “like” counts on services like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s really easy to tell who has the momentum by looking at these numbers obsessively and analyzing their growth. Granted, it is possible to “game” the numbers by purchasing Facebook ads or engaging in elaborate pump-and-dump follower schemes on Twitter, but there is usually some deeper truth the numbers are telling us about your brand or your candidate (whether it’s about organic momentum, or the hustle respective teams are showing in growing those numbers — which is notable in and of itself).
If a candidate or brand has a huge following, but relatively little engagement from users, that also tells a story. And that brings up an interesting contrast between the Facebook pages of two Presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — seen as polar opposites in style and tech savvy.
President Bush is a relatively new entrant to Facebook, and in a few months has amassed 637,713 fans (at this writing) — a number that’s grown during his recent book tour.
Contrast this to President Barack Obama, who at 17,117,366 fans, which makes his the 17th most liked page on Facebook, right between House and Bob Marley.
One would expect that Obama’s following, at 26.8 times Bush’s, would lead him to absolutely dominate the 43rd President in “Like” counts. It is surprising how much that’s not the case.
To be sure, Obama still gets more “Likes” — but by nowhere near his lead in fans. On average, President Obama’s last 10 posts have been liked an average of 11,579 times, to Bush’s 6,655 times. That works out to more than 1% of Bush’s fan base interacting with his page on any given post. For President Obama, it works out to a pretty weak 0.07% fan interaction rate — and a 13-fold advantage for Bush on that score.
Nor is this a trend isolated to George W. Bush, who has seen a resurgence in the polls lately. The other Republican mega-brand on Facebook, Sarah Palin, also sports a much higher rate of fan interactions than Obama and comes close to besting him in raw “Like” counts — seeing an average of 9,444 Likes per post off a fan base of just over 2.5 million.
For comparison purposes, we also analyzed two of the most popular brands in raw numbers — Facebook itself (29,727,677 fans), and Starbucks (18,727,225 fans). They had predictably high “Like” numbers in a raw sense, but the rates of interaction were just below Obama’s at 0.05% apiece, showing that people are less likely to outwardly express an opinion about a product than a hotly debated public figure. The exceptions were posts that tapped into funny Internet memes (Facebook’s post about people changing their profile pictures to cartoon characters topping the list at 53,380 likes) or causes (Starbucks’ post about World AIDS Day at 20,245).
Other fun and/or interesting findings from this brief study:
Content matters — with the most popular posts getting vastly more traction than the average post. For instance, Facebook’s post about Smurf avatars got 48 times the “like” love than its most recent post about their “STEM Video Contest.”
Content perceived as self-promotional or directly commercial in nature tends to perform worst, particularly when it’s not coming “from” the principal. I’m a big fan of this White House update video, but my comment is aimed squarely at this.
Photos > Text. President Bush’s two most popular posts, at 16,000 likes a piece, were fairly routine photo updates from his book stops. Ironically, videos didn’t see this much of a bump over the average, which confirms what I think is a common sense understanding of the popularity of photos on Facebook and how easy it is to interact with them, even when compared to video.
Despite the current hue and cry from the left, Obama’s most “liked” posts come when he shows a more centrist face. Obama’s most recent post about a tax cut compromise at 17,518 likes and his showing of Commander-in-Chief chops by visiting Afghanistan, at 21,881 likes — did better than a base-pleasing post on the DREAM Act (8,116 likes).
Last week I had the pleasure of joining a panel on social media and politics at the Milken Global Conference. The Conference targets CEOs and featured Nobel-prize winning economists, major nation defense ministers, Olympic athletes, and this year, Rush Limbaugh. So what was I doing there?
Social media’s role in politics fascinates even the triple-Ivy-league credentialed academic. How is the social web effecting who we elect and how we elect them? Will the social web have long-term effects on the shape of our democracy? Will the candidate who best understands social media prevail?
Our panel responded to these questions and more with a summary of our discussion below:
Candidates Must No Longer Run and Hide.
Voters expect candidates to make a presence and engage voters where they are: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and dozens of smaller social networks. These virtual meeting places are today’s version of town fairs, civic club meetings and after school programs, except online they take place around-the-clock. This means candidates can make their presence felt on their own time; conversely, once they begin to engage with supporters, they set a standard for the level of activity expected of them.
Authenticity Rules the Day.
Some candidates have “the gift:” this is the smooth-talking, heart-string pulling appeal of Presidents old and new, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama respectively. Such candidates have a unique ability to win over voters with their authenticity, although one could make a strong argument that their perceived authenticity is as big an act as your average politician. No matter, candidates with “the gift,” have a natural ability to rule social media too. They have an appeal; they inspire you to connect with them; they win you over with their hopeful message. Ronald Reagan, had he been running today, would thrive in the social media.
So what is a candidate to do who has less of “the gift?” They could be themselves for one; and treat their supporters as friends, valued members of their team, and the key to their electoral success. After all, roughly 20% of Internet users, according to Pew, received and/or shared information through a social network in the 2008 elections. Social network participants are real people, and the network is purely an easier, more efficient and personal way of communicating with them than traditional media. It’s not a new phenomenon for the more likeable candidate to win an election; social media platforms allow candidates to feature their likeability, if they choose to open up and let the walls down.
More Networked, Less Dependent on Money(wo)men.
The social web is the ultimate flattener of influence. Through most social networks, every individual has the same opportunity for influencing the greater community, and thus one would assume, the candidates they support. One is ranked by how interesting and involved they are, and not by the amount of money they have to contribute. Popularity matters instead, as the number of friends one has determines their value as an advocate for the candidates and issues they support.
Most social networks are purely democratic institutions; their members, particularly America’s youth, are being socialized to expect an equal stake in historically heirarchical institutions like our government. Populism sells on social networks, a lesson for tomorrow’s candidates. The questions is whether the influence of online networks — where membership is free — will surpass the influence of money in politics, and if so, when?
Social Score Does Not Equal Voter Score.
Or does it? Barack Obama currently has over 6,000,000 Facebook supporters while John McCain has less than 600,000. If an election were held today, would Obama receive ten times more votes than McCain? Of course not. So how good of an indicator of voter support is Facebook, or any social network? The most socially networked candidate is not necessarily the most popular at the ballot box. Ron Paul had many more Facebook supporters than most of his primary challengers; yet, they received more votes than he did.
But, we shouldn’t ignore social network support just yet. Candidates who understand the value of running an authetic campaign, and the importance of communicating with and engaging every interested person online, most likely exhibits those characteristics offline as well. The campaign who treats a Facebook organizer the same as the way they treat a $300 donor is likely to earn favor from more voters than the one who has a static politican profile. And yes, the campaign that makes an effort to engage voters through Facebook, when their opponent is absent, is more likely to win. Social networks matter.
I don’t know what is the next MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Ning or Twitter, but if history repeats itself, we will all be socially networked on new, improved platforms by the time we cast our vote for President in 2012. Remember Friendster?
A couple of days ago, I reviewed the launch of the new WhiteHouse.gov. Today, nearly 72 hours after Barack Obama’s inauguration, the only official documents of the Obama Administration online are his inaugural address and his executive orders. President Obama has had public events to swear in his staff, announce the closing of Gitmo, and name envoys to the Middle East. The photo office has release some pretty striking photos of Obama’s first day in office to the press. None of this content is online at WhiteHouse.gov.
Much of the coverage has focused on the gee-whiz factors of the new site, including the blog, a YouTube channel, and the pledge (not delivered on yet) to post non-emergency legislation for public comment before the President signs it. At the same time, we can’t forget that WhiteHouse.gov is the President’s web site of record, and perhaps its most important purpose is to disseminate information about the President’s day in a timely fashion. Here’s how the Bush White House’s news section was structured.
Beyond the IT glitches that will plague any White House in its first few days (though I’m not sure quite what the problem is posting documents from desktops equipped with Windows XP), the site doesn’t seem to be structured to deal with the depth of content that a White House produces. All news content so far has been posted on a linear blog without comments — when they get around to posting “Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Cuba” that probably isn’t going to make the sexiest blog post. And without monthly archives, or paginating items 10 posts at a time, it’s going to make it difficult to find content.
All photos are set up in a pretty but not very functional slideshow format that still refers to Barack Obama as the President-elect. None of the photos taken by the White House are there, and I can’t easily grab photos in a size that would fit on a blog (as I should be encouraged to do, since all governmental works are not copyrighted). Here I’m waiting for the Flickr account or Flickr-like solution where you can view and download images in multiple sizes — including the highest resolution. And if they released most of the dozens or hundreds of photos taken everyday — instead of the half dozen or so that have traditionally been released — that would be one of the most compelling aspects of the site day in, day out. Obama’s campaign Flickr account had over 53,000 photos.
Things were never this bad during the campaign or transition, so I have to assume that the team is working with tools that are either inflexible or not ready for prime time. Still, a content management system and a Gmail account is all you need to send around transcripts and post them. So, the delays in publishing relevant information can’t be explained by any of the technology gripes currently out there in the press.
As Barack Obama took the Oath of Office as the 44th President today, another important piece of state business was happening on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue: turning on the Obamaified WhiteHouse.gov.
This bit of “change” is of heightened interest because of the adeptness with which the Obama team used the Web during the campaign and the transition. Though myriad challenges remain with the use of social media and user generated content in government — as detailed by this excellent Wired magazine piece this month — the Obama team shows every sign of plowing right on through antiquated readings of the Presidential Records Act that have been used to prevent such things as the creation of a White House YouTube account in the Bush Administration. And voila, here’s the official Obama White House YouTube account, with comments and ratings enabled.
As a Republican but also as a citizen, I’m eager to see more transparency and real dialogue from the White House online. Change.gov was great at allowing users to comments and vote up ideas but conveniently, the only ones highlighted by incoming Administration officials were ones that supported its existing message. In doing so, the Obama team enlisted the participatory ethos of the Web in support of rigorous message discipline. This is certainly a best practice for political management of the open Web, but it’s up to us to demand a higher standard. Did you know, for instance, that the Bush-era “Ask the White House” feature always went out of the way to include at least a few challenging questions to Administration officials in online chats?
Other thoughts and observations, good, bad, and ugly:
Though beautiful as I expect any Obama design by John Slabyk design to be, I was expecting something a bit more majestic for the White House site. Obama’s design efforts have gotten progressively more workmanlike since the campaign site was refreshed with ethereal, cloud-like design in early 2008. I was expecting a return to something more like that now that Obama actually is the President, rather than pretending to be the President with fake seals and federal imagery.
The new site fails in one respect: I can’t get a transcript of today’s Inaugural address. Several people on Twitter have reported that the text was there, but was removed. (Change!) As someone who spent part of the Bush Administration waiting for the White House to post things with Swiss clock-like efficiency, I had grown used to a standard where speeches and fact sheets were up within the hour. Given the challenges of moving in, things probably won’t run as smoothly on Day 1, but despite all the social media bling, you can’t forget that a key function of the site is to get information out in a timely fashion. Also: are they planning on jamming all speech and fact sheet content into a blog, having the effect of 1) making it less of a blog, and 2) ensuring that information is completely hard to find? I am all for junking the traditional press release, but there is value in putting speeches up in a structured format in a newsroom and keeping the blog the authentic “voice” of its authors.
The large, rotating headline feature area to drive key messages was long overdue on a White House site, and the implementation is superb.
A departure from previous Obama sites, WhiteHouse.gov is built in Microsoft’s proprietary .NET framework, something that is sure to cause no small degree of consternation among the President’s devotees in the open source community.
I am surprised that the Obama team is not doing more to collect e-mail addresses, sticking with the traditional upper right hand placement of the e-mail signup box but little else. Traffic to the White House site is the envy of anyone who works primarily with campaign websites, and they could probably build a list of millions in short order with splash pages and interactive features. I fully expect to see more of this in the coming weeks.
The design seems to be influenced by Andy Rutledge’s 2006 critique and suggested alternative, which consisted mostly of making the homepage a glorified sitemap. The current homepage isn’t quite that bad, though the extended footer is evocative of it.
Though a work in progress, I do think this is a solid first effort from the Obama team. What do you think?
Many of the tactical postmortems on the Obama campaign have been focused online. But it’s worth remembering that that is only one piece of the puzzle. The fact is that Obama ran a better kind of offline campaign. A couple of parts really stand out from the Lloyd Grove interview of David Plouffe:
L.G.: How much money is allocated to the various units of the campaign? One always hears that paid advertising takes significantly more than 50 percent—putting commercials on the air, radio, and television. Can you break down the percentages?
D.P.: Well, we spent obviously a lot of money on TV, but as a ratio of our spending, it was much lower than historically is done, and that’s because we spent a lot of money in the field and on the ground. And, in fact, when we did our baseline budget, the field was fully funded because we thought it was very, very important. If we were to raise excess funds, we bolstered the field a little bit, but it went in advertising. Our first priority was the ground operation because we thought that was essential to us winning. It’s very much, I think, a unique approach. In a lot of campaigns, the media gets funded first, then if you have extra money that comes in, you bolster the field and things of that sort. And we kind of did it in reverse.
L.G.: Can you give me a rough breakdown of percentages?
D.P.: Well, no. I would say that it’s lower.
L.G.: One always hears historically it’s almost 70 percent that goes to media.
D.P.: Right, the playbook is 70 to 75 percent, and we did much less than that. Under 50 percent.
L.G.: What gave you the chutzpah to think you should break the model, and spend more than 50 percent on non-media?
D.P.: First of all, we knew that we had to get really good turnout, and that we thought a human being talking to a human being in a state is the most effective in communication. So we needed an organization that was able to facilitate that. Secondly, a presidential campaign is a very well-covered enterprise, people are talking about it all the time, they see it on the newscast, they’re reading about it online. In many respects, advertising in a senate race or governor’s or congressional race can have more impact because those races aren’t front and center for people. I always believed that advertising was very, very important. I think we went right in and it was very helpful—makes it meaningful because people have 100 percent knowledge of the candidate and are following pretty closely. So I thought we could afford to trim a little bit. Now we ended up raising a lot of money, so our point levels were very big in September, October, but we could’ve won without that. Then the McCain campaign likes to say, “we were outspent, that’s why we lost on TV”—and I think that’s complete malarkey.
Paid advertising can have a dramatic impact on high valence issues that are getting short shrift in the media. I’ve seen this enough to not be a hater on paid advertising. That said, even Senators and Governors races have enough of an earned media component these days to dilute the value of TV ads even in downballot races.
When you’re spending 70% or more of your budget on any one thing, be that advertising, field, salaries, online, etc., that does not make for a very well balanced campaign. At some level, a certain laziness about how to spend money kicks in. Since the basics of a campaign — staff on the ground, websites, office space — come relatively cheap compared to points on TV, there is a much greater tolerance for waste on the airwaves than there is in any other area of the campaign. A lot of this, particularly at the local level where candidates are even more reliant on consultants, is driven by consultants preferring commissionable advertising over non-commissionable field efforts. Morton Blackwell has been preaching this gospel for years.
So Obama decided to something radical in the context of traditional campaigns. They decided to construct their entire budget around field. This proved to be a wise investment, as it was the nose-to-the-grindstone focus on caucus states that won them the primary and their massive investment in field in the general that shifted the electorate 3-4 points in their direction. That turnout wasn’t dramatically up from 2004 misses the point. Every serious person who’s looked at this agrees that their turnout was way, way up, and ours was down. So: a relative wash in overall vote count but a sea change beneath the surface.
Should TV people have something to fear? Ultimately, David Axelrod was not lacking for funds. If given a choice between a bigger piece of a smaller pie and a smaller piece of a much bigger pie, TV consultants would be stupid not to take the latter. But that will require a fundamental shift in how we look at Republican campaigns: from staid, establishment-only affairs towards a more freewheeling, participatory, and bottom-up culture consistent with our capitalist philosophy. And it will require different types of candidates, not just a change in tactics.
As we debate how to rebuild our party with new technology and stronger grassroots, watch for the media to fawn all over Obama’s use of the Internet as President as he brings (some) of the tactics of his winning campaign to the White House.It began this weekend with the release of President-elect Obama’s YouTube address and the transformation of the anachronistic radio address. This generated an explosion of media interest, even though 1) the format is not especially compelling, and 2) at least initially, ratings and comments on the video have been turned off, preventing ordinary Americans from talking back — contrary to what happened on My.BarackObama.com during the campaign.
Jonathan Klinger has written about what happens when the bottom-up culture of the campaign meets the top-down culture of government. Still, assuming Obama is able to overcome legal hangups about comments on the White House website and YouTube channel — as HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and Blogger Bob of the TSA have on their government-hosted blogs — we can expect to see unprecedented innovation (a.k.a. stuff that’s now standard campaign fare but totally unknown to government).
Here’s what I think we can expect from the new WhiteHouse.gov. The media will fall all over themselves when these happen even though they are nothing new if you’ve been watching Obama’s new media efforts during the campaign. Be on the lookout for:
A blog with comments on WhiteHouse.gov.
A greater emphasis on e-mail collection and frequent campaign-style advocacy e-mails from figures ranging from Rahm Emanuel and the President himself. The DNC or Obama for America 2 will have THE LIST, but I predict an independent effort to create a millions-strong list inside the White House (with a splash page not out of the question). Remember: official sites get FAR more traffic than campaign sites, so the ability to collect 10,000 or more e-mail addresses a day is not to be overlooked if they put sound conversion-maximizing practices in place.
“A day in the life of the President” YouTube documentary series. This will get more views than a comparable NBC special if it’s any good.
Using UStream to live-stream ALL the President’s or the White House’s public events. The campaign saw that when they posted several minutes of original content daily on their YouTube channel, people watched. The White House will have hours of such material AND the bully pulpit.
A White House Twitter account with the occasional original tweet and @ reply. The Bush team deserves credit for jumping on Twitter long before it hit critical mass, although its tweets are limited to a Twitterfeed of the White House website. Check out 10 Downing Street’s Twitter feed for an indicator of what’s coming.
Based on the latest data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project, Obama’s spending advantage is starting to come into play. In the week from September 28 to October 4, Obama-Biden spent $16.2 million on ads in 15 swing states to McCain-Palin and the RNC’s $9.5 million.
Is this spending making a difference? The answer is a qualified yes.
To figure out the impact of Obama’s TV ad spending edge in various states, I updated this spreadsheet to aggregate a number of data points, including RCP averages from various points in the race, 2004 results, and aggregate ad spending as well as ad spending per voter per week.
In states where Obama has an above average spending advantages (more than 1.7 to 1), his RCP average lead has moved up 3.61 percent versus in 2.44 percent in states where the candidates were more stalemated in terms of ad spending. A similar shift of about 1.2 points was found when comparing these polling averages to July 1 or the first date we had polling for a state, when ad spending was a fraction of what it is today.
With 15 states, this kind of analysis is plagued by a small-n factor in which one state can throw the calculus off dramatically. It’s also worth pointing out that state-specific RCP averages can be less reliable than their national counterparts.
In these cases, I find it useful to build typologies state by state. Overall, I found 5 states (Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia) in which a massive Obama spending edge correlated with an above-average shift to Obama since September 28, versus one state that defied this pattern (Indiana). Remove Indiana and the ad spending effect rises to 1.6 points.
As for the rest of the states, all but one are grouped as battlegrounds in that both candidates were competitive at a 2-to-1 spending ratio or lower, and these generally resulted in more muted shifts or contradictions between the July and September deltas.
The odd man out is Minnesota in which McCain is actually outspending Obama and has held the line relatively well there. This is the one example of an ad effect working in his direction.
Here’s a scatterplot of Obama’s ad spending edge in dollars per voter last week, mapped against the change in the RCP average from July 1st and from September 28th:
So, the difference between outspending your opponent 3.6 to 1 and 1.3 to 1 could be about 1.2 points — maybe 1.6. But I wouldn’t write home about this until we have several weeks of ad spending correlated with corresponding before and after poll data.
It’s also worth noting that this cash advantage is not recreatable in every state. There are still lots of states where McCain will compete aggressively. That means saturation advertising on both sides, making it physically impossible to maintain a 3-to-1 cash advantage. And even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be as effective since McCain has established a baseline presence.
Obama’s spending advantage is also mostly in Republican states that are not likely to be tipping points that have seen little McCain advertising. These uncontested situations In these states are ripe for moving poll numbers. Obama is advertising at normal levels and McCain is on the air little or not at all. However, these will be wasted dollars if Obama doesn’t succeed in flipping these states or realign them to the point where they are electoral vote #270.
Earlier today, the Obama campaign released its own iPhone application. And at first, our reaction was probably pretty close to that of our friends over at techPresident. A great little widget, sure — but is it one that’s really essential 33 days before an election?
Two things changed my mind. First, I downloaded the app — and it’s good. It makes a promising start of using the iPhone’s location awareness features, even if it explictly falls short of fully realizing its potential in this arena. Second, it was developed as an all-volunteer effort. Meaning the cost and distraction to the web team in Chicago was next to zero. Using volunteers and open-sourcing their new media strategy enables the Obama campaign to be everywhere, dabbling in cool apps that would be more questionable if they came directly from the campaign. Here’s the blog of one the application’s most high profile developers, and here’s a list (with organizational responsibilities!) of the 10 person dev team. And here’s perhaps the most impressive tidbit:
This is a secret side project that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months. The development started in earnest in the middle of September. The application was developed in 22 days.
What’s above is a slideshow of most of the screens in the app, so those of you that aren’t a part of the Cult of iPhone can experience it. Some of the highlights:
Donate-by-Phone: If you want to donate, the app doesn’t try to shoehorn a Safari-based online donation page. Instead, it calls the campaign’s call center to fulfill your pledge. The app recognizes you’re on a phone not a computer, and behaves medium-appropriate.
Contact Your Friends: The app grabs your contact list and sorts them by state using area codes, putting swing states up top. This works for me. The people I know who live in Virginia showed up first. Of course, most of my friends and associates are already decided for McCain, as am I. How about the ability to grab the names of 50 random undecided voters and call them on the spot? A tweet from one person on team suggests that they won’t store or send personal info, but the ability to call undecided voters in 5 minute increments is one logical feature that could have been included through tighter integration with Obama HQ.
GPS-Enabled Find Your Local HQ and Local Events: This is probably the sweetest part of the app (our sour-est if you’re a righty). Using the iPhone SDK’s CoreLocation feature, you can find your local HQ or local volunteer events. Want to volunteer for Obama in your neighborhood today? The app found at least a dozen events in varying distances from where I sit right now that I could volunteer for. This is actually useful for driving real volunteer and get-out-the-vote activity. Warning: Local Events is the least stable part of the application and frequently crashes it.
News, Issues, Photos, and Videos: These are probably throwaway pieces that repurpose straight content from the website, particularly the text-based News and Issues items. Videos pulls in a feed from the campaign’s YouTube account, though only older, highly popular videos are visible through the iPhone. Photos pulls in the campaign’s Flickr account.
Some bottom line conclusions:
The app won’t convince any undecided iPhone users, and isn’t meant to. It’s meant to mobilize the tech-savvy faithful in ways that are politically actionable, like volunteering for local events or contacting friends in swing states.
An iPhone app will have limited reach today but with the explosion of the iPhone 3G (over 5 million sold in three months) and Google’s upcoming Android platform, rich applications on smartphones will see a hockey-stick type adoption curve in the next few years that those in politics should play close attention to. Limited adoption didn’t stop the podcasting craze by political committees a few years back, except the mobile applications of the future are actually far more useful.
Location awareness is a game-changer that makes cell phones useful tools for GOTV. Think of how much of the ground game is location-based; if you’re in the wrong precinct, you don’t matter. GPS enables targeting of volunteers down to the inch. Want to go door-to-door? Here are the 20 undecided voters closest to where you are, right now. Here’s a script and questionnaire you can fill out with a few finger taps. Here’s a short video from the candidate to show the voter. Two or three generations of development on top of the ideas first exposed by this Obama application, and we’ll have a truly killer political app.