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Monday, November 12, 2012


Governor Romney was uncharacteristically honorable and gracious in his concession speech delivered last Wednesday Morning after his defeat.

Quite apart from ranking his campaign team as what he believed to be the best ever, he graciously conceded defeat and a set an unprecedented tone that rabid and “Tea Party” Republicans in going forward would do well to take note of - especially if they are considering self-recalibration.

Governor Romney won only 38% (N=206) compared to Obama’s 62% (n=332) of the electoral votes.

There’s also a fundamental nation-building lesson in Romney’s concession speech for our local politicians who tend to have a general propensity to “politick” and “politrick” after losing an election. Romney taught them that “we” can do better even after we have lost - not only the seat we sought to win but also the multiple-million dollars we wasted in our pursuit of victory.

According to Dr Jimmy Fletcher (in a Facebook comment last week), “throwing large sums of money at election campaigns will not guarantee victory”. Perhaps, our political parties should take note, especially the erstwhile UWP which flaunted millions of Chou Money in the November 2011 elections.

With 20/20 vision, we perhaps now understand much better that negative and repulsive “super pacs” (or by whatever name they are called) are mere exercises in political masturbation which may excite our support base but may not penetrate new areas of support.

Indeed, in the just completed US elections, both campaigns used super pacs; but the Obama team used less and conducted a campaign which was differentiated from the Romney Campaign by science and more importantly by "principles".

The Obama team made measurement the centre of gravity of its campaign. Jim Messina unabashedly said the campaign was “metric-driven”.  According to him “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign”.

The Times Magazine reported that Messina “hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation”, with an official “chief scientist” - Rayid Ghani, an expert in statistics -  in charge. Ghani - who previously crunched mountains of data to “maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions” - used “cutting-edge text analytics” that helped the Obama campaign determine voters’ hopes and fears.

After several experiments, the Obama data-mining scientists came up with a major discoveries about supporters and used them to build one of the major pillars of the Obama campaign.

Perhaps one way to characterize the US elections is to say that it was a battle between two schools: the Ghani School and the Rove School.

While “Karl Rove” School wasted money on unprecedented “Super Pacs”, the Ghani School took the Obama ground organization to a formidable and insurmountable “evidence-based” level that virtually guaranteed Obama the presidency for a second term. In fact, it is argued that data were “the biggest institutional advantage that Obama had over Mitt Romney’s campaign”.

The hard core of “Organizing for America” (the name given to the Obama Campaign) is what the Huffington Post described as an extensive, overwhelming, powerful “grass-roots-oriented infrastructure” with a “legion of devoted volunteers and a never-ending reservoir of cash”; and it may well become a blueprint for future presidential candidates to follow.

In 2008, it was all about high-tech wizardry. This year it added a progressively new layer: statistical modeling. The Obama campaign boasts they could use the “predictive profiles” constructed with data to predict online and mail donors as well as model volunteers.

They created comprehensive models of swing-state voters which could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to direct mailings and social media.

The strategists used the data to design tests for specific demographic groups, trying out message scripts that they could then generalize to larger samples. They were also able to test and compare the effectiveness of calls from a local volunteers and volunteers from “non–swing states” like California.

Messina left nothing to chance. Assumptions were rarely left in place without numbers to back them up, he said.

When it was all said and done, Obama won 332 (or 62%) of electoral votes and 61,170,405 popular votes (50.5%) compared to Romney’s 206 (38%) electoral votes and 58,163,977 popular votes (48.0%). Democrats also won two additional senate seats, taking their tally from 53 to 55. Republicans now have 45. Republicans maintained their House majority, winning 234 seats. Democrats won 195. Indeed, it was a resounding victory for President Obama.
The Obama campaign has lessons for our political parties operating here.

The Lorne Campaign had a measure of parallelism with the Obama Campaign. When on the night before elections it's “scientist-in-chief” projected a victory margin of less than 100 for Lorne, some members of the camp almost excoriated him; but in the end, it became just that!  Today, the excoriation persists when frank “scientific” projections are made about the "state of the race" if elections were held now.

But that’s what statistical modeling and scientific analysis are all about. They generally tend to brutally frank and intellectually honest focusing on the objective pursuit of the cold hard truth, just like Ghani - and not to exploitatively pander to the wishful thinking of politicians as Rove does.

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