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Monday, June 2, 2014

21st Century Political Realities

Recently I have been reading a number of books on advances in technology as applied to politics in America. These books include The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Joe Trippi, Collision 2012 by Dan Balz, and The Victory Lab by Sasha Issenberg. The Trippi book is about the 2004 campaign of Vermont Governor Howard Dean. It is a pre Facebook era look at how the Dean organization utilized the internet to create a bottom up campaign that nearly toppled the candidates of the Democratic establishment. It is an early look at the power of the Internet to not only connect candidates to supporters, but also connect supporters to candidates in a way that has heretofore been impossible to imagine. The real message of the Trippi book is that the Internet enhances the power of the grassroots to affect the outcome of a national campaign, especially an insurgent campaign such as that of Howard Dean. This is how Joe Trippi describes the power of the Internet…
“What we’re really in now is the empowerment age. If information is power, then this new technology—which is the first to evenly distribute information—is really distributing power.”

“I believe what we do with that power will determine the course of this country. I believe that the Internet is the last hope for democracy. I believe that American will use it in the next decade to bring about a total transformation of politics, business, education and entertainment.”
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was published in 2004. Joe Trippi could not envision all the advances that have taken place after that date, but his vision of the near future may well have been on the mark. Between the aborted Howard Dean campaign of 2004, and the successful campaign of Barack Obama in 2008, and again in 2012, dramatic changes in technology and the approach to politics, especially on the left, have taken place.

Collision 2012, subtitled Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America, provides an overview of the 2012 race for President of the United States. The wakeup call for the Democrats was the 2010 off year election. This is how Dan Balz reports it…
“[The Democratic] party had absorbed the worst midterm election defeat in more than half a century. Democrats lost sixty-three seats in the House, the biggest midterm loss by a party since 1938.”

“In the states, the wreckage was even greater as the conservative tidal wave swept aside years of Democratic advances. Republicans captured a majority of the governorships, and Democrats were lucky not to have lost more. Republicans picked up nearly seven hundred state legislative seats and now controlled legislatures in twenty-six states. In twenty-one states, Republicans held both the governor’s mansion and the legislature.”
Facing such a massive and overwhelming rejection by the voters, the Democrats and the Obama Administration were reeling. It was in the face of this loss that the Obama political machine geared up for a tough race in 2012. The reality, however, was that Obama’s race for the White House in 2012 actually began the day Obama took office on January 20, 2009. But, according to Balz, as technologically savvy as the 2008 Obama campaign was, the plan was to completely reboot it and update it for 2012 …
“In one of their first conversations about the reelection, [Jim] Messina said he told the president that the reason they could not rerun 2008 was because so much had changed in just two years. Technology had leapfrogged forward with new devices, new platforms, and vastly more opportunities to exploit social media.”
Balz continues…
"Messina and his colleagues were investing enormous amounts of time, money, and creative energy in the development of what resembled a high-tech political start-up whose main purpose was to put more people on the streets in 2012, armed with more information about the voters they were contacting, than any campaign had ever attempted.”

“…Organizing for America…began investing millions of dollars and countless hours on technology and analytics that would eventually migrate to the election campaign.”

“The campaign hired software engineers and data experts and number crunchers and digital designers and video producers by the score—hundreds of them—who filled back sections of the vast open room resembling a brokerage house trading floor or a tech start-up that occupied the sixth floor of One Prudential Plaza overlooking Millennium Park in Chicago.”

“No campaign had ever invested so heavily in technology and analytics, and no campaign had ever had such stated ambitions.”
The investment in technology was a tremendous leap of faith by the Obama team that the old politics of spending millions on television were the past, and that the future was technology that allowed you to know who was likely to vote for your candidate, and that provided a software platform for reaching out to these donors in a personal, powerful way.

The goal…
“…was to build a program that would allow everyone—campaign staffers in Chicago, state directors, and their staff in the battlegrounds, field organizers, volunteers going door to door or volunteers at home—to communicate simply and seamlessly.”

“That brought about the creation of the Dashboard, which Messina later said was the hardest thing the campaign did but which became the central online organizing vehicle.”
Supported by hundreds of millions of dollars raised through fund raising, the Obama machine overcame overwhelming odds to win the White House again in 2012.

With that background, I went on to read The Victory Lab by Sasha Issenberg. In my view, this is the most insightful look at using technology and psychology to win elections in the 21st century. This book provides in-depth information on the advances in using technology and on baseline tested physiological approaches to winning over voters and getting them to the polls by both political parties.


In the Prologue Issenberg writes…
“The revolutionaries are taking a politics distended by television’s long reach and restoring it to a human scale—even delivering, at times, a perfectly disarming touch of intimacy.”
Indeed, and perhaps ironically, that is exactly what the use of technology, and baseline testing of messages is enabling campaigns to do in the 21st century. Instead of ads aimed at masses of people through television, cutting edge campaigns endeavor to spend their funds reaching the voter directly and individually. They gather public data on voters, and match that with information gained from personal contacts with prospective voters to reach individuals with messages tailored expressly to them. Not surprisingly, head-to-head tests of contacts with prospective voters via mail, telephone, and in person made it clear that in this impersonal age, the personal one-on-one contact is the most powerful.

Politicos had known for years that the more personal the contact the more powerful and persuasive it was. As Republican guru Blaise Hazelwood put it…
“Knowing where a voter lives, how old they are, what gender they are, and all those things are very important. But nothing is as important as understanding what they really care about…”
In 2003, Republican consultant Alexander Gage created a PowerPoint focused on a campaign tool he called “microtargeting.” This is, apparently, the first time that particular term was used, but it has now become the standard description of the way campaigns can identify voters by their personal preferences and choices. It bypasses the traditional precinct approach in favor of an individual target approach. As it was refined and made more precise, microtargeting was used to not only raise the Republican voter turnout in heavily Republican areas, but also increase that turnout in traditional Democrat strongholds. It is a tool that helps candidates win close races.

According to Issenberg…
“A Washington Post analysis of the $2.2 billion spent on the presidential campaign [2004]—split almost evenly between efforts on behalf of Bush and Kerry—concluded that Bush’s $3.25 million contract with Gage’s firm TargetPoint was among the best money spent that year.”
At that point the Democrats were behind the Republicans in terms of targeting and turnout. But, that was soon to change.
“In April 2006, [Laura] Quinn and former Clinton White House adviser Harold Ickes [formed] a new company, Catalist, that would serve what they described as a data ‘utility’for Democratic campaigns and liberal causes.”
Catalist was to be a for-profit company, but that was not to be its primary purpose. It was to be cause driven, not bottom line driven. To get it underway Ickes needed $5 million in seed money, the first $1 million of which came from the multi-billionaire financier, George Soros. The idea of Catalist was to create a vast database comprised of hard data gathered by a myriad of groups on the left and then make that data available to liberal candidates and causes across the country. At the time the Issenberg book was written, Catalist was maintaining “…one-half of a petabyte of data, the equivalent of one thousand hard drives.”

About the same time, in parallel with the development of Catalist, AFL political operative Mike Podhorzer set up the Analyst Group that was an outgrowth of a long term project to baseline test messaging used in political campaigns. Podhorzer hired Todd Rogers, who is described by Issenberg as…
“…a psychologist who graduated from Harvard Business School after performing research that examined whether the way individuals managed their Netflix queues could illuminate how they felt about a carbon tax to fight global warming.”
After taking the job as executive director of the Analyst Group, Rogers wrote…
“Some people have described what we are trying to do as ‘Moneyball for progressive politics.’”
Moneyball is a direct reference to the approach taken by Billy Bean, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, using analytics to find bargain priced players who could outperform their market value when placed into the right situation.

Rogers was enamored by the work of…
“…psychologist Robert Cialdini, an expert in the way that consumers were simply unable to make rational choices…”

“Cialdini documented how consumers followed bad cues or were drawn to faulty assumptions, and the ways marketers could exploit them. Eventually he turned his powers toward promoting good behavior with cynical mind games. It was Cialdini, for instance, who documented the success of hotels that encouraged guests to reuse their towels by informing them how many guests also did so, rather than by highlighting how disappointingly low recycling rates were or the general importance of environmental concerns.”

“Cialdini had found repeatedly that what he described as injunctive norms (‘you should not litter’) were far less effective at changing behavior than descriptive norms (‘few people litter’).
The Issenberg book also discusses the use of shame as a means of increasing voter turn-out. Essentially, by making a voter aware that voting (not who you vote for) is public information, and advising that voter of his own voting record and that of his neighbors, voter participation increased significantly.

Utilizing advanced technology and applying proven psychological techniques, the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns committed huge resources to finding their voters and turning them out on election day. For example, the 2008 Obama campaign knew that the normal turnout of Democrat voters for the Iowa Caucuses was 125,000. They knew that if that number of Caucus goers turned out again, they would lose to Hillary. Therefore, they set a goal of 180,000 Iowa Caucus goers. They knew that if they reached that amount, they would win. The final count of Democrat Caucus participants in 2008 was 239,000 and Obama won easily.

The advance of technology and the use of baseline measured psychological tests are not the only things that have significantly altered the political landscape in the United States in the 21st century. The fact is, the United States of 2014 contains an electorate that is vastly different than that of a few years ago.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan won a landslide re-election victory, winning 49 states. In doing so, Reagan won the white vote by 20 points. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost the election to incumbent President Barack Obama, receiving just 47.2% of the total popular vote. Yet, in 2012, Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points, the exact same margin with which Ronald Reagan won a 49 state landslide victory in 1984.

Ronald Reagan received less than 10% of the black vote in that election; similarly, in 2008, John McCain won 4% of the African American vote, and in 2012, Mitt Romney won 6% of the black vote. McCain also won 31% of the Hispanic vote and in 2012, Mitt Romney won 27% of the Latino vote.

In other words, the demographics of the United States have changed dramatically since Ronald Reagan ran for president. No longer can a Republican candidate for president succeed by simply winning the white vote by 20 points.

In fact, we are fast approaching the reality that no white Republican candidate for President can win. Unless and until a Republican candidate for president can significantly increase his or her share of the African American and Hispanic vote, the United States is headed for a permanent Democratic control of the United States government.

The Republican brand is so tarnished with African Americans that any white candidate for president is immediately distrusted. He or she will have no chance of expanding the black vote even though the Republican Party is the Party of Abraham Lincoln. As recently as 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower received 39% of the black vote, but the relentless charges of racism by the news media and Democrats have so damaged the Republican brand, it is impossible for a white candidate for president to make inroads into this portion of the electorate.

Simply running another candidate like McCain or Romney in 2016 will result in the Republicans losing the White House again. It doesn’t make any difference if the last name is Paul or Bush or Christie, the outcome is foregone. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

But, there is an alternative. Herman Cain proved that a black Republican can succeed with black voters and with Hispanic voters. When he ran for president in 2012, his internal polling showed that he was winning more than 40% of the African American vote. And, this was running against a black Democrat incumbent, Barack Obama! There is no doubt that the total black vote would have declined under attack by the news media and the Democrats, but it would not have shrunk below 17%.

What is the significance of 17%? It is a magic number for the Republicans. If the Republican candidate for president receives at least 17% of the African American vote in the swing states, those states that hold the key to a presidential election victory, no Democrat candidate for president can win. Even Hillary Clinton cannot win. And, there is more good news. When Herman Cain was running for president, his polls showed that he was not only receiving more than 40% of the black vote, he was also receiving more than 60% of the Hispanic vote! Why?

As you can imagine, the Cain campaign team was perplexed. How could Herman Cain draw huge support from both the African American and the Hispanic community running against America’s first black president, Barack Obama? It didn’t seem to make any sense. What they concluded was that poor African Americans and poor Latinos saw in Herman Cain a man who had experienced their lot in life—being born into poverty. They believed that he understood their plight, and more important, he understood how to escape poverty and experience economic success. In short, both African Americans and Hispanics identified with Herman Cain.

If the GOP wants to win the White House and save America, it must do something different in 2016. The establishment is afraid of taking chances. That is not surprising. That’s why it is the establishment. All organizations eventually get to the point where they are risk averse. They don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary, they want to preserve the status quo. But, such a strategy is the most risky of all. It inevitably leads to ruin and the disintegration of the organization.

Ronald Reagan was not a part of the Republican establishment. Yes, he was governor of the largest state in the nation, but he had the attitude and the philosophy of an outsider. The Republican establishment of the time did not want someone as conservative as Reagan as their nominee. They were sure it would lead to defeat, even though their most recent candidate, Jerry Ford, a sitting president had been defeated soundly.

Today the leading lights in the Republican Party favor a moderate Republican like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or even Mitt Romney (again!). However, as the data shows, that is the certain path to defeat in 2016. In fact, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, and all the rest have the deck stacked against them as well. They can’t describe a sure path to victory in 2016, because there isn’t one.

It’s not your father’s political landscape. The electorate has changed dramatically and it’s not ever going to be the same again.

If the GOP wants to win the White House in 2016, they need to run someone like Ben Carson. Yes, Ben Carson has never before held public office, but is being president harder than brain surgery? Ronald Reagan was dismissed as just a B-grade actor when he ran for governor of California. And, as you may recall, at that time California was, according to GDP, the seventh largest government in the world!

It’s simply a myth that anyone outside of Washington who has not previously held public office can’t handle the job of president. It has been said that Ronald Reagan could have run the government from a closet because his principles were aligned with the Founders and he understood the proper role of government and of the president.

The Founder’s goal was repeated many times. They wanted successful men to serve in public office, not as a career, but as a sacrifice in service to their fellow citizens. The Founders called such men “citizen statesmen” and they believed they were the most qualified to serve in the highest roles of government, including as president.

The last thing we need today as our next president is another Washington, D.C., insider. Let’s be honest, the Republicans and the Democrats are both to blame for the current mess this nation is in. When the GOP last controlled both houses of Congress and a Republican sat in the White House, spending was out of control. There was nothing conservative about the way they spent the hard earned dollars of American citizens, their coziness with special interests, and their love of earmarks.

If the Republicans really want to win and want to challenge the Democrats on their home turf, they should not only choose Ben Carson as their nominee for president in 2016, they ought to choose as his running mate someone like New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. This would put the Democrats on the defensive, trying to protect the African American vote, the Latino vote, and the female vote. It would not only be a gutsy move, it would be a politically smart move that would be a thrust at the jugular of the Democratic Party. And, in electing Carson and Martinez, we would be electing a slate dedicated to the United States Constitution and committed to the values of America’s Founders.

If the GOP would be bold enough to nominate such a daring and sure-to-win ticket, it would be the Democratic Party that would be set back for 30 years. And, because Ben Carson is such an articulate candidate who can, like Ronald Reagan before him, explain complex issues in simple terms, it is likely that he would not only win the election, but do so in a landslide.

After all, while businessman Herman Cain was widely respected in the black and Latino circles, it is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Benjamin Carson is revered in these communities. Every black child has been told the story of Ben Carson, a man born into dire poverty in one of the worst areas of Detroit. You may have missed it, but virtually all African Americans have watched the full length movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Gifted Hands. This is the movie that tells the life story of Ben Carson and how he became the first physician in the history of the world to lead a team of surgeons that successfully separated twins conjoined at the head. Up until that point in time, many neurosurgeons had tried to separate twins conjoined at the head, but in each and every case, one twin died. Dr. Ben Carson is an icon in the African American community. And, you can expect men like Bill Cosby, and many other African American leaders, to rally to his cause. It will pose great difficulty for any African American to vote against the first descendent of slaves who is running for President of the United States.

Remember, if Ben Carson wins just 17% of the black vote in the swing states, no Democrat candidate for president, even Hillary Clinton, can win the White House! He is the candidate that the Democrats fear the most. A Ben Carson victory would leave the Democratic Party in shambles. Its base would be permanently damaged and Ben Carson’s success as president would cast great doubt on the trustworthiness of the Democrats by African Americans and Hispanics for decades.

After all, there is no political gain in Democrats lifting the poor out of poverty. They are the party of Woodrow Wilson, a racist who, as a 12 year old living in Atlanta, cheered for a victory of the Confederacy. Wilson, with the help of his mentor, Richard T. Ely, engineered the re-segregation of the South and the institution of Jim Crow. If the poor blacks, whites, and Latinos climb the ladder of success, they will no longer be dependent on government, and they will not be susceptible to manipulation by the Democratic Party.

A Republican Party that is unwilling to nominate a sure winner like Dr. Benjamin Carson is an organization that is doomed to failure. Ultimately, sooner than we might expect, it will lead to the establishment of a permanent Democratic majority. What would that look like? Just look at Detroit. That is the America of the future if conservatives do not take back the government, rein it in, repeal Obamacare, support traditional values, and re-establish the United States as the pinnacle nation in the world.

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