Orca was a flop, and by Orca I don't mean the 1977 horror movie about a killer whale starring Richard Harris, although that was a flop too. I mean, of course, Mitt Romney's "killer fail" of a voter-monitoring app.
The Democratic and Republican campaigns were almost equally cagey about their respective approaches to voter analytics in the run-up to polling day, although it was generally believed that Obama's team held the technological advantage. Politico reported that an Obama voter monitoring team, based in Chicago, knew "what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends." They also know who your mother voted for in the last election.
Romney's team was said to be outsourcing these activities, creating "customized solutions" to fit their needs. How did that go? We're starting to find out.
Project Orca was a Web app, designed to allow Romney volunteers to monitor voters as they left polling stations and indicate which supporters needed to be reminded, or prompted, to cast a vote. The objective, reasonably enough, was to deliver real-time voter analytics to end users, who could use the data to direct get-out-the-vote efforts. It was linked up to a national dashboard at Romney's Boston headquarters.
Textbook stuff: a dream combination of mobile platforms and nimble intelligence. If only it worked.
Unfortunately, in the heat of electoral battle, Orca turned out to be prone to crashing. One aide described it as "lying on the beach with a harpoon in it." There also seems to have been a litany of preparation errors, according to a Romney volunteer:
Training calls were not much more than marketing sessions for the app.
Instructions arrived the day before the election, in the form of a 60-page PDF, together with voter rolls.
It was unclear to users whether Orca was a mobile or Web app (it was the latter).
Orca was located at an https:// URL address, and nobody had thought to forward the equivalent http:// address, meaning that many would-be users were confronted with a blank page.
The consultants, who would probably prefer not to be associated with this disaster, seem to have included media strategists The Stevens and Schriefer Group and voter contact specialists FLS Connect. Given the cost of Romney's campaign -- estimated at over $7.5 million -- one wonders why an element as important as Orca wasn't put in the hands of a major IT shop, experienced in rolling out apps to large numbers of users and providing proper training.
There can be no doubt that applying analytics to voters at a micro-level, especially in battleground territories, is here to stay. After all, one reason we're not hearing stories about the Democratic data mining exercise is that -- presumably -- it worked.
The Republican Party right now is contemplating a long list of things it may need to do better, or at least differently, to mount a successful challenge for the White House in 2016. Developing a robust tool to leverage voter analytics should be near the top. Maybe call it Jaws.
As far as the US is concerned, I think you're right Mashka, as long as candidates reach a certain basic level of likeability/competence. So many of the people who will actually vote are fully committed to one party or another, that a candidate would have to be very poor to keep them at home - let alone make them change their vote.
The GOP, I have to say, have at least looked at candidates who would fit that description: Palin and Bachman, for example. I say that as someone who thinks John Kerry was a terrible candidate for the Democrats, but Kerry certainly didn't sink to that level where he was turning committed Democratic voters away.
Mashka, I don't believe he lost because Orca failed, but Presidential elections in the US are now so closely contested, that getting potential voters to the polls is a vital element of overall strategy. The failure of the system intended to enhance campaign workers' ability to get-out-the-vote is a serious matter, albeit probably not decisive.
Given Election results it is clear to me that camp Romney was not using data to it's best advantage. It is very interesting to see how mauch data and analytics are increasinging providing the difference between seing a whole picture and missing it. I look forward to seeing the use of data evolve by the next election
As most of the people have already here, I'd agree that a mobile app would've been better suited to the needs of the Romney team. Having a web app severely compromises the need for data to be available on the go and as it changes. Plus the with a mobile application, there's a better chance of capturing more data and therefore servicng it to more people than with a web based application.
Here's the story of how Obama's team managed the technological challenge: with forty engineers -- "The team had elite and, for tech, senior talent -- by which I mean that most of them were in their 30s -- from Twitter, Google, Facebook, Craigslist, Quora, and some of Chicago's own software companies such as Orbitz and Threadless..." -- and plenty of advance testing.
Jabailo, I agree strongly. And looking into my crystal ball, I predict that turning out the vote - the ground game - will be key to the next election too. If things continue as they have the last four elections, the "undecideds" who might actually vote will become less and less relevant. It's a dwindling segment, and it's not even clear how to sway it.
What will be more important is getting your committed supporters to the polls.
Perhaps regrettably, this makes debating the issues even less important. Committed supporters don't much care what each candidate has to say about the issues.
Jason, I also suspect Obama's team had been putting together their technology for several years. It's widely reported that senior figures from the 2008 campaign went straight back into the field to prepare for 2012. Romney's team probably had a much shorter run-up (post the primaries?) and didn't make the most of it.
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