IT infrastructure in Presidential Campaigns

The leveraging of data and technology played a larger role than ever in the presidential campaigns of Romney and Obama in the recent election. The campaigns worked to target the right people with the right information, especially in the swing states. The technological efforts of Obama’s campaign proved to be more successful in this election than Romney’s, according to an article on WashingtonPost.com by Marc Thiessen(http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/marc-thiessen-how-obama-trumped-romney-with-big-data/2012/11/12/6fa599da-2cd4-11e2-89d4-040c9330702a_story.html). This article stated that Romney’s data mining operations named Project ORCA would “ensure hyper-accuracy of supporter targeting ” and bring more supporters to the polls. The system failed to handle the incoming data, with so much coming in that they thought they were under an attack. This failure was in part to the hasty preparations made for it after the relatively short time period following the primaries.
Obama’s approach to harnessing data was similar to Romney’s in 2008, with failures due in part to the short time after primaries causing him to rely on vendors and field volunteers rather than having an internal IT team, according to this article: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/11/built-to-win-deep-inside-obamas-campaign-tech/. An attempted system called Project Houdini was a get-out-the-vote system that was supposed to revolutionize the Election Day ground game was put in place in 2008, however the automated hotline failed to withstand the huge flow of data it faced on election day and went down.
The IT infrastructure of Obama’s campaign in this year’s election was much more established with an IT team called Team Tech which operated like a startup and implemented services which could withstand the huge flow of data generated by volunteers and potential voters. The services were able to support apps like Dreamcatcher that allowed micro targeting of voters based on sentiments in text, and Dashboard that allowed volunteers to communicate. The arstechnica.com article mentioned on of the tools this class is using, which I found interesting.

To pull it off, the Obama team relied almost exclusively on Amazon’s cloud computing services for computing and storage power. At its peak, the IT infrastructure for the Obama campaign took up “a significant amount of resources in AWS’s Northern Virginia data center,” said Ecker. “We actually had to start using beefier servers, because for a period of time we were buying up most of the available smaller Elastic Compute Cloud instance types in the East data center.”

In summary, the presidential campaigns had differing levels of success in leveraging technology and data to organize volunteers, reach potential voters, and get people out to the polls. The major problem facing the IT workers was the huge influx of data reaching them at certain points during the election season in a time-efficient way. The success of the Obama campaign was in part from the scaling up of infrastructure and taking advantage of Amazon’s Web Services. If you are interested, the arstechnica.com article has a lot more details that I did not go into about how Obama’s campaign IT team dealt with the problems of creating such an infrastructure that could withstand the demands of the campaign and the tools they used.

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2 Responses to IT infrastructure in Presidential Campaigns

  1. hoffalex says:

    It was interesting to see how big data analytics is beginning to be utilized in political campaigns. I found the story about project ORCA to be particularly insightful, as it helped to illustrate how not to use big data analytics during an election. It was also interesting to see how the Obama campaign was able to learn from its mistakes during the last election and create a better system this time around. While I do not think that the Obama campaign’s advantage in big data analytics played a major role in his victory in the election, I do believe that, as big data becomes more highly utilized, future elections may be highly influenced by advantages in big data systems.

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