Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected with Young Voters

Social networks are transforming the way campaigns are conducted.

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Larry Downing / Reuters

President Barack Obama reaches out to shake hands after speaking at a campaign event at the University of Cincinnati on Nov. 4, 2012

In the final weeks before Election Day, a scary statistic emerged from the databases at Barack Obama’s Chicago headquarters: half the campaign’s targeted swing-state voters under age 29 had no listed phone number. They lived in the cellular shadows, effectively immune to traditional get-out-the-vote efforts.

For a campaign dependent on a big youth turnout, this could have been a crisis. But the Obama team had a solution in place: a Facebook application that will transform the way campaigns are conducted in the future. For supporters, the app appeared to be just another way to digitally connect to the campaign. But to the Windy City number crunchers, it was a game changer. “I think this will wind up being the most groundbreaking piece of technology developed for this campaign,” says Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director.

That’s because the more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them. “People don’t trust campaigns. They don’t even trust media organizations,” says Goff. “Who do they trust? Their friends.”

The campaign called this effort targeted sharing. And in those final weeks of the campaign, the team blitzed the supporters who had signed up for the app with requests to share specific online content with specific friends simply by clicking a button. More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video designed to change their mind. A geek squad in Chicago created models from vast data sets to find the best approaches for each potential voter. “We are not just sending you a banner ad,” explains Dan Wagner, the Obama campaign’s 29-year-old head of analytics, who helped oversee the project. “We are giving you relevant information from your friends.”

Early tests of the system found statistically significant changes in voter behavior. People whose friends sent them requests to register to vote and to vote early, for example, were more likely to do so than similar potential voters who were not contacted. That confirmed a trend already noted in political-science literature: online social networks have the power to change voting behavior. A study of 61 million people on Facebook during the 2010 midterms found that people who saw photos of their friends voting on Election Day were more likely to cast a ballot themselves. “It is much more effective to stimulate these real-world ties,” says James Fowler, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, who co-authored the study.

Campaign pros have known this for years. A phone call or knock on the door from someone who lives in your neighborhood is far more effective than appeals from out-of-state volunteers or robo-calls. Before social networks like Facebook, however, connecting a supportive friend to a would-be voter was a challenge. E-mail, for instance, connects one person to a campaign. Facebook can connect the campaign, through one person, to 500 or more friends.

Because it took more than a year to build the system, it was deployed only in the campaign’s homestretch. The Romney team used a far less sophisticated version of the technology. Political strategists on both sides say that in the future they intend to get the system working sooner in primaries in key states and with more buy-in from supporters, who will have a greater understanding of their role in the process. “Campaigns are trying to engineer what the new door knock is going to look like and what the next phone call is going to look like,” says Patrick Ruffini, a Republican digital strategist who worked on George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. “We are starting to see.”

And the technology is moving fast. In 2008, Twitter was a sideshow and Facebook had about one-sixth its current reach in the U.S. By 2016, this sort of campaign-driven sharing over social networks is almost certain to be the norm. Tell your friends. 

168 comments
ahandout
ahandout

Pravda column calls Obama a communist and those that voted for him illiterate.   Who would know a communist better that someone that lived in the Soviet Union.

http://english.pravda.ru/opinion/columnists/19-11-2012/122849-obama_soviet_mistake-0/

Also the comments qouted by Putin are aimed at the stupidity of having the government control the economy.

"The second possible mistake would be excessive interference into the economic life of the country and the absolute faith into the all-mightiness of the state.

There are no grounds to suggest that by putting the responsibility over to the state, one can achieve better results.

Unreasonable expansion of the budget deficit, accumulation of the national debt - are as destructive as an adventurous stock market game.

During the time of the Soviet Union the role of the state in economy was made absolute, which eventually lead to the total non-competitiveness of the economy. That lesson cost us very dearly. I am sure no one would want history to repeat itself."

paulejb
paulejb

Team Obama set a record for turning out low information voters by going where they go with a message of "free" stuff for all but the actual producers of wealth in the nation.

docrocktex26
docrocktex26

@UNDERWATERWELD Hey Dave! Had a great time, hope you did as well ;-)

superlogi
superlogi

Obama's campaign connected with the parasitical, the ignorant (young or old) and the stupid who really can't be blamed for their condition.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. As we contemplate all that we are grateful for, let us not forget to raise a glass for Freedom of Speech!

notsacredh
notsacredh

No "1000 Words" for Thanksgiving. The horror. The horror.

frankwall1965
frankwall1965

Very good article! I think the way Twitter and Facebook influenced the election is incredible. And its going to be fascinating to see how social media comes into play in 2016. Maybe one day we'll have a situation where you can cast your vote through Facebook or Twitter. If you check out some statistics, you can see the absolutely massive gulf in Twitter supporters between Obama and Romney, and surely this is one of the key reasons for Obama's re-election: http://www.statista.com/statistics/243305/number-of-twitter-followers-of-barack-obama-and-mitt-romney/

LarryBlaze
LarryBlaze

Now I'm starting to believe that the power of social media isn't at all overrated.  Social media makes the world go around, well that's what http://www.atomicpr.com/  would definitely say...

MehrganHD
MehrganHD

How intellectual Nov 6 election was!! Chicago voted for a bipolar Rep!

notsacredh
notsacredh

"@MrObvious @TeroI don't get the ant reference I guess?"

.

A mindless hive collective?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@ahandout 

Sounds like another dolt that doesn't understand what Communism is and can't give any examples of how we're headed into this fictitious "Communist State", much like you.

bjd105
bjd105

@paulejb R U kidding me man!!!!  40 BILLION in corporate welfare Ass hat!  The actual producers of greed, I mean wealth get plenty and hoard in return!  Go watch FOX News you lame ass excuse for a himan being.  The rich have never been richer, but where are the jobs?  You, my good man,  are a moron.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@sacredh While Nate is my North star, I think Dems don't have to do a lot to keep PA. Gov in a lot of trouble. If not for those who didn't vote in 2010, would not have had the redistricting that changed the legislature.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@superlogi Didn't you get the memo? You rightists are supposed to go back to hiding your contempt for your fellow citizens. You can still hate them, of course, just try to disguise it.

notsacredh
notsacredh

outsider2011, Rubio typifies the republican party today. Things aren't what they are. They're only what they think they are. During the primary season the republican voters rejected the clown car extremeists in state after state. Romney wasn't a good candidate, but he was a vast improvement over Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Santorum and Gingrich. Mitt had to tack ever rightward just to beat the TP candidates. By the time the general election race started, Romney could swing back far enough to the center to win.

.

The problem wasn't that Romney wasn't conservative enough, the problem was that he was forced into adopting positions that were too conservative for the moderates and women that decided the election. The TP is saying that Mitt was too moderate, even liberal. Rubio and Ryan would make a great ticket for 2016. We'll be cheering louder than the TP for them.

outsider
outsider

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is likedriving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see whatlies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deeptime, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of theanti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Mine either. We didn't let the pig get away either. I said the prayer. "Two more of God's creatures bite the dust. Amen".

notsacredh
notsacredh

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours too Ivy_B. I miss the "1000 Words". I never thought I'd miss DISQUS, but I do.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@sacredh No 1,000 Words in a very long time; no MMR. Guess those who just wanted a bunch of drive-by commenters have won. New format and LiveFyre made it happen.

Off to get ready to go out for dinner,

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, sacredh

Tero
Tero

@sacredh 

Mr O is right, we shouldn't think too hard about it. Knowing conservatives, it probably isn't funny, even if they explained it to you. Though, if you have to explain the joke; it aint funny.

superlogi
superlogi

@Paul,nnto @superlogi I've hated Marxists for over forty years when I was sent to SE Asia to eradicate them.  It's a difficult task you've set.

PS Which of the above subsets of humanity mentioned, do you fall into?

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@Paul,nnto @superlogi They really can't help it. It's not that Republicans tend to be jerks. The problem is that jerks tend to be Republicans.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Pnnto, at some point we have to expect the republicans to face reality. I don't know if it will be as soon as 2016, but they've lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections. The idea that they're not very appealing as-is has to occur to them eventually. They could very well lose the Supreme Court during the next 4 years. If democrats take it again in 2016, I think it would be almost a certainty.  The Tea Party is rendering them almost unelectable on a national level.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@sacredh The republicans are largely a "next in line" party. 

It was Nixon's turn,  Ford ran as an incumbent, Reagan made his bones during the 76 cycle challenging Ford, Bush was the obvious next in line,  Dole paid his dues running with Ford, lil' Bush had Daddy's machine behind him, McCain made his bones in 2000 challenging lil Bush and then falling into line, and Willard was next in line after the last cycle.

2016 will be Ryan's if he wants it.

outsider
outsider

and

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

superlogi
superlogi

@Paul,nnto @superlogi Paul,nnto superlogi No one spat at me, you silly buffoon. All the spitters were in some other country, until of course, the fighting and dying was over with.  In fact, I'd bet you're old man was one of them.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@superlogi @Paul,nnto  Awww a pretend soldier shows he is bitter. How. Very. Novel. 

Can you regale us with tales of being spat upon when you came home? I mean if you are in for a penny...

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@superlogi @Paul,nnto As for subsets--are they not by definition a minority? I think the most recent election reaffirmed that you and yours are in the "subset".

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@superlogi @Paul,nnto Cool! You're another rightist pretend soldier. 

Do any of you ever have an original made up biography? I mean the world of imagination is your oyster yet you all are (pretend) soldiers, (pretend) lawyers, and/or (pretend) physicians. 

So dull.  

notsacredh
notsacredh

East central nfl. Btw, we're on a floater watch at work. I hate that.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

They think they can push a too-green Marco Polo or yet another B[l]ush to the forefront and expect people to buy it....

BTW if I hear that someone in northeast OH won a $325 million jackpot I expect a cut.  Just sayin'. 

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@sacredh The thing is, Willard wasn't the TP candidate, he was the establishment guy. As Ryan will be now.

It isn't optics that hurt the republicans in national elections, it's policy. As you point out, as well as I have repeatedly, the Democratic candidate has garnered the most votes in all but one election since 1992. 

There were no TPers back then. Well sure there was, but they were called Newt's Contract With America people back then. The republican base has become increasingly, well, base.

There is no getting rid of them.  They aren't a part of the republican party to be "handled", they are the republican party. 

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@peacock2828 @Paul,nnto @sacredh I disagree. Willard ran strong 4 years ago and then bowed out with a well received speech to CPAC.

Hillary may have been the favorite for the Democratic nomination but I was speaking of republicans. 

But certainly kicking around who will be a candidate 4 years from now is just a parlor game. 

peacock2828
peacock2828

@Paul,nnto @sacredh Romney wasn't next in line.  He was just the only person in line who wanted it.  Christie could've gotten the nomination if he wanted to.

As for Ryan, I'm not sure.  There aren't many obvious alternatives now, but Hillary was the clear favorite for 2008 until that Barack guy showed up.