Key staffers of the 2012 Obama campaign dissected their winning strategies and the future electoral advantages Democrats have over Republicans at an interactive panel held Saturday by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
Despite being outspent by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s supporters, targeted television advertising and grassroots activism bolstered by superior online technology helped propel President Barack Obama’s victory. Looking ahead to the 2014 and 2016 elections, Obama staffers expressed cautioned optimism on the Democrats’ tech advantages.
“Campaigns are largely less about the national parties than about the individual candidates ... there is no guarantee that our advantage continues. It should, but there’s no guarantee,” David Plouffe, former senior White House advisor and campaign manager for Obama 2008, told Progress Illinois. “Most people who are leaders in the technology industry aren’t in agreement with the current Republican Party positions, so I think it’s going to be hard for them.”
When the panel discussion opened to include questions from audience members, Michael Wille, a Romney for America field manager in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County said that Republicans’ electoral strategies of voter suppression must change. In an interview after the panel, Wille said Republicans also need to reach out to minority and young voters more effectively.
“It’s just basic human psychology, when you try to tell someone not to do something, they’re going to want to do it. That’s why you saw those long lines and then the woman that Obama highlighted at the State of the Union, [who at] 102 year-old, stands in line for six hours,” Wille told Progress Illinois. “We can’t take that route. It might have to be some change in the electoral college, the demographics are that bad right now. I think right now if we don’t change our views on certain policies, it’s just going to kill us.”
In addition to demographic advantages, Obama staffers during the panel said their field organization's efforts to boost early voting paid off.
“With Karl Rove’s 72-hour strategy, you are 30 days too late,” said Jeremy Bird, national field director for Obama for America. “In Ohio, we were using an early vote model for who we thought were likely to turn out.”
Helping this effort was the campaign’s online technology, largely designed in-house, of which Plouffe said Obama “would not have been president without it.”
Obama for America staffers say the in-house web team’s professionalism boosted the campaign’s outreach, adding that the app allowing campaign supporters to have their Facebook friends targeted for messages to vote was especially helpful.
“It was a blaster, it was the most crude product, but it was incredibly effective,” said Harper Reed, chief technology officer for Obama for America. “We looked for people that had five to 10 years of experience building big web apps.”
Panelists said micro-targeting persuadable voters was also an important part of the Obama campaign’s television advertising.
“Watching evening news, you would see five Romney ads for one Obama ad. Primetime it was even, cable was opposite, six to one for Obama. Persuadable voters don’t watch evening news,” said Larry Grisolano, Obama for America's director of paid media.
The panel discussion was part of the University of Chicago's “Full Access 2012: Inside the Obama & Romney Campaign”, a five-week series of events which, earlier in the week, included a live discussion between David Axelrod, former White House senior adviser and President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and 2012 Republican presidential primary candidate.