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September 18, 2014

"Catalist," Obama's Borg-Like Base-Turnout Machine

Interesting/scarifying post from J. Christian Adams on the power of Obama's voter-targeting software, sent along by @comradearthur.

The Democrats and the institutional left have a new political tool that allows them virtually to ignore moderates yet still win elections.

This tool, the Catalist database, was employed in the 2012 election. That election defied conventional wisdom: Mitt Romney sought and won independent voters overwhelmingly, but still lost. If you wondered why the conventional wisdom about independents and moderates didnít seem so wise in 2012, the answer is Catalist.

Beyond winning elections, Catalist also allows the Democrats to turn the policy narrative upside down and suffer no political consequence for implementing radical policies which appeal to their base. The Obama administrationís lurch to the far left without consequence can be understood by understanding Catalist. Obama thrives politically by satisfying his base. Simply, Catalist is a game changer not just for politics, but for policy. It is the leftís machinery for fundamentally transforming America.

And candidates, organizations, strategists, and consultants who do not understand what they are up against in Catalist risk being overrun.

...

Next: two examples demonstrate the power of the institutional leftís data tools.

During the 2012 election, a producer for a conservative news network received a knock at his door in a key swing state. Two neighbors were standing on his stoop campaigning for Obama. They werenít there to talk to him -- they were there to talk to his wife. They knew that she was employed in a profession which the Obama campaign had decided to microtarget: folks who deliver services to special needs children. The two neighbors were already armed with this personalized information. The Obama campaign didnít just send a direct mail piece to the target or make a telephone call. Instead, the campaign matched a microtargeted demographic (special needs service providers) with a highly motivated Obama volunteer in close neighborly proximity to the target. Then they armed the neighbor/volunteer with data to visit the target.

...

The second example involves a recent statewide election. In a state where one Democrat and one Republican must be appointed to run each precinct, an election official described for me a problem encountered with the Democratic Party. It seems the Democrat she nominated to run the polls wasnít sufficiently ideologically pure. What evidence did the party have to object to her bona fides? A response to a telephone survey many years earlier in which the nominated poll official wasnít supporting the Democratic nominee for United States Senate.

Republicans donít have anything even close to this sort of data, where answers to poll questions in years past could be employed in future fights.

Read the whole thing. He doesn't provide actual details on how Catalist works, but does offer a few clues to its success.

First, there's the Tech Gap. Republicans lag well behind Democrats in embracing new technology.

I still remember this NYT piece from shortly after the election, about Obama's "Dream Team" of behavioral psychologists who advised him on how to pull the levers and push the buttons in voters' brains.

Less well known is that the Obama campaign also had a panel of unpaid academic advisers. The group -- which calls itself the "consortium of behavioral scientists," or COBS -- provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters.

...

When asked about the outside psychologists, the Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with them....

"[The behavioral psychology consultants were] kind of dream team, in my opinion," Dr. Fox said.

He said that the ideas the team proposed were "little things that can make a difference" in people's behavior.

...

At least some of the consortiumís proposals seemed to have found their way into daily operations. Campaign volunteers who knocked on doors last week in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada did not merely remind people to vote and arrange for rides to the polls. Rather, they worked from a script, using subtle motivational techniques that research has shown can prompt people to take action.

...

Many volunteers also asked would-be voters if they would sign an informal commitment to vote, a card with the presidentís picture on it. This small, voluntary agreement amplifies the likelihood that the person will follow through, research has found.

In a now classic experiment, a pair of Stanford psychologists asked people if they would display in a home window a small card proclaiming the importance of safe driving. Those who agreed to this small favor were later much more likely to agree to a much larger favor, to post a large "Drive Carefully" sign on their lawn -- "something no one would agree to do otherwise," Dr. Cialdini said.

Well that's kind of obvious. That's just The Foot in the Door effect. A salesman first asks for something very, very small -- something his target would need to be rude to refuse. Later he makes his Asks larger. But he has gotten his target accustomed to agreeing by that point.

(Incidentally, this is why I'm always talking about Baby Steps and Small Buy-Ins. Some people argue that you persuade when you make Large Asks of a voter. That's just not true. In fact, it's completely the opposite of true. You pull people along with Little Asks. When people are confronted with a Large Ask right up front, they refuse, because refusal is now socially acceptable and the easiest, most prudent course of action. It's like sitting down to dinner with a date and proposing sex before even ordering drinks.)

But even thought that's obvious-- be aware, these psyops people signed NDAs and are not permitted to discuss their advice except on the most general, obvious level.

The GOP tends to be suspicious of these sorts of manipulations, owing less to the GOP's native integrity, I think, than to the fact that very few behavioral scientists schooled in the art of manipulation are Republicans who can be trusted to not leak the details of their efforts to the Democrats, or the NYT.

The Replicants know themselves by sight. The rest of us can only guess (absent a V-K test).

The other problem Adams identifies is the lack of any kind of coordination among the various interest groups making up the institutional side of conservative movement.

Conservative groups tend to be in competition with each other. Eager competition. Competition red in tooth and nail.

It's my own personal observation that, in social settings, politically-inclined conservatives will spend about half their time talking about Obama and Democrats. The other half -- the fun half -- happens when someone brings up other conservatives or conservative institutions to trash.

I think we can see this in our own comment section. I don't mean this to be chiding at all. I say it as a straight observation with no judgment or scolding attached.

Conservatives hate progressives, but, you know, progressives are aliens. It's hard to hate an alien. They lack the aspects of humanity that makes animus personal.

Other conservatives are people, and therefore easier to really, really get annoyed about.

I've always been amused by the simple-minded progressive notion that conservatives are all of one mind and readily snap to disciplined order when a Leader tells us to.

If only.

We're very fractious. That has its upsides, but it also has its downsides.

Conservative organizations are in direct competition with each other not just as regards capturing Mind Space, but also in competition for resources-- donations. The basic order of the movement is chaos. For a party which is generally skeptical of evolution, we have ironically embrace Darwinian Competition for Environmental Resources and Niches as our ecosystem.

Maybe the left used to be that way too. But not any more.

That, my friends, is an orderly structure with a clear chain of command and readily-understood hierarchy that would make a Borg cry openly in joy.

And make no mistake -- that centralization of cash money resources also results, by necessary consequence, in a centralization of message creation.

He who pays the piper, you know, calls the tune.

I'm not sure if I like the Left's model of Complete Centralization of Command and Control of money, ideas, and data. It's a model that would naturally appeal to the Left, of course, which envisions the same model as the highest aspiration for society generally.

I think centralized control might have some advantages in some circumstances... until centralized control makes large errors, which it then infects all its inferior robots with.

But at the moment, it does seem to be working.

And certainly in the area of Borg-like cooperation and hierarchical command that Adams reports on -- in the area of data sharing -- they are kicking our asses up and down the quadrant. While every conservative group guards its data as if its data were money (which, actually, it is), our Friends on the Left have, per the socialist model, decided that all property and wealth belongs to the collective, to be dispensed by the collective as the Central Organizing Committee of The Collective sees fit.

I don't know what to do about this. I don't want to follow them down this creepy robot road, but on the other hand, I'm also tired of losing.


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posted by Ace at 12:31 PM

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