Technology Bytes: Perry's social scientists and Obama's data brigade

Rick Perry, Data Nerd?

The Texas governor and would-be president may not have much time for science when it comes to climate change or evolution, but Rick Perry sure likes it when it helps him get elected.

According to a preview chapter of an upcoming book by Sassha Issenberg, available on as “Rick Perry and His Eggheads,” campaign manager Dave Carney brought in four social scientists (including two from Yale) during the candidate’s 2006 gubernatorial reelection bid in Texas.

Their mission? Conduct randomized studies on typical campaign activities, including candidate appearances, TV ads, yard sign-distribution, robocalls and block-walking to see what moved local polls and what didn’t.

The results were immediate and striking, and they led Perry’s 2010 campaign to slaughter some cattle sacred in the campaign world: they cut robocalls, they cut direct mail and they cut yard signs and newspaper ads entirely, to much vendor sorrow and some staff dismay. What mattered instead? Canvassing, TV, online spending and candidate appearances.

Read the full chapter for more details (it’s worth your time), and look for the Texas governor’s data-dependent ways to continue in 2012.

Obama's Own Data Brigade

Perry’s not the only one playing with math: the Obama campaign is hiring a cadre of numbers nerds to help it leverage the vast amount of data generated by field organizing, social media, direct mail and digital advertising.

According to ClickZ’s crack online advertising reporter Kate Kaye, OFA is filling positions for “predictive modeling and data mining analysts who would be responsible for developing statistical and predictive models to assist in digital media, as well as for fundraising and other media.”

The campaign is hiring data managers for several battleground states as well as a dedicated team based in the Chicago office. A fascination with analytics is par for the Obama campaign course: OFA’s email staff is known to be fanatic about testing. (I’ve seen presentations in which they’ve discussed trying out a dozen potential subject lines on list samples before sending out a fundraising email nationally.) David Plouffe has also publicly spoken about how the ‘08 campaign leadership used grassroots field data to make in-the-moment decisions about where to spend money and to schedule events.

Remember those mobile canvassing apps we talked about earlier? Guess who’ll be using the data they generate. Interpreted correctly, these numbers can help test messaging points, target ads, mobilize donors and volunteers and determine where the candidate and top-level surrogates should spend their precious time.

Don’t forget: sometimes the real digital politics is taking place behind the curtain, and not on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning, a fifteen-year veteran of online politics and a perpetual skeptic. A contributor to C&E, Delany writes the magazine's Technology Bytes section. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at

Also in Technology Bytes this issue: Online, 2012 Won't Be 2008

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