Despite the best efforts of its campaign tech consultants, the Republican Party remains in the proverbial Stone Age. Or at least that’s according to the Republican National Committee, which says the party’s data, media buying and voter contact operations are in need of a complete overhaul in the wake of the 2012 election cycle.
The RNC’s new Growth & Opportunity Project report, which pooled the knowledge of some 200 GOP consultants and managers, found that the Obama campaign was better at identifying low-propensity voters through analytics and subsequently able to convince them to turnout for the president.
“Democrats had the clear edge on new media and ground game, in terms of both reach and effectiveness,” the report reads. “Obama’s campaign knocked on twice as many doors as the Romney campaign, and Obama’s campaign had a ballot edge among those contacted by both campaigns. In addition, the president’s campaign significantly changed the makeup of the national electorate and identified, persuaded, and turned out low-propensity voters by unleashing a barrage of human and technological resources previously unseen in a presidential contest.”
The RNC’s much anticipated report acknowledged what was obvious during the 2012 presidential contest—Mitt Romney’s campaign might as well have been Fred Flintstone’s foot-powered car in a race against Barack Obama’s Mercedes when it came to campaign technology.
So what does the GOP need to do to catch up? Well, it needs to change pretty much “everything a campaign does” when contacting a potential voter.
“We cannot leave anything to intuition, gut instincts or ‘traditional’ ways of doing things,” the report states. Moreover, the committee says it intends to lead the effort to make the GOP an “environment of intellectual curiosity, and a culture of data and learning.”
“Republican campaigns in the future need to be grounded in rigorous testing and trial-and-error processes to ensure our strategies, messages and tactics are effective in persuading voters,” the committee concludes.
The recommendations include the hiring of a full-time data team. The report lays out plans for a “data analytics institute that can capture and distill best practices for communication to and targeting of specific voters.”
To oversee the data institute, the RNC says it will hire a chief technology and digital officer by May 1, 2013. Such a hire would “send a strong and immediate signal that we are serious about growing our digital and tech operations,” the report states.
Here are the full recommendations on the digital front:
1. Convene extensive listening sessions for all high-level GOP data users and contributors, to elicit up-front buy-in. New products cannot be developed without significant input from future users.
2. Support the creation of a new data platform accessible (through rentals, subscriptions, licenses or data exchange agreements) to all qualified Republican organizations and campaigns, approved vendors and research organizations for data enhancement, analytics and application development. To facilitate better access to data, advanced open-source access must be in place to make it easy to receive data, contribute data, and see the benefits in real time.
3. Recruit and competitively compensate talented and committed long-term data staff at the RNC. The Data team at the RNC is too small to adequately provide strong data and analysis of data for all state parties, candidates and organizations. The RNC is a national party and must have the staff resources available in this area to assist all 50 states, not just battleground states. The RNC should immediately expand the strategic/data staff to prepare for upcoming elections in 2013. More staff will be needed in an election year.
4. Conduct a national road show to ensure that state parties and campaigns at all levels of the ballot understand how data can benefit them, and train them in the tools made available to them. This is essential to building confidence throughout the Party and its consultant class and getting the most out of our investment.
The party’s current media buying approach was identified as another major issue this past cycle. The Obama campaign was able to specifically target its message through carefully selected forms of media and audience in 2012, while the Romney buying operation was understaffed and overstretched.
“The Obama media research and buying staff was five to 15 times larger than the Romney staff,” the report points out—a subtle knock on Romney’s chief strategist Stuart Stevens, who many blame for the campaign’s slow-moving media buying operation.
The report also recommended more schooling for campaign managers and candidates in media budget management, as well as a “best practices approach to the issuance of large contracts.” Currently, the RNC requests at least three bids if a contact exceeds $100,000 in cost. The report suggests that for such contracts, the approval of a second RNC officer in addition to the chairman should be required.