After what the Obama campaign accomplished with a backroom filled with 20-something math geeks, American presidential politics will never be the same.
For decades, candidates have put their faith in political consultants whose gut instincts, ability to read polls and track records of victories made them look like magicians with an astounding array of tricks up their sleeves.
Mitt Romney had one such man at his side throughout the 2012 campaign, a guy named Stuart Stevens who could claim to have helped elect more Republican governors and senators than any contemporary media consultant. He also had the assistance of
Men such as Stevens, Rove and Morris built their reputations, careers and fortunes on the perception that they knew more about the mechanics of politics than anyone else, but after this year's election, they and their ilk may be going the way of dinosaurs. The new kids on the block that are pushing them to extinction do not necessarily know that much about history or politics, but they do know numbers.
The veteran political managers in the campaign took a bold risk by moving beyond traditional techniques and the usual pack of consultants to, instead, put the political fate of the president in the hands of a bunch of numbers-crunching kids. As Parsons and Hennessey wrote:
"For campaign professionals, that is a major leap. Politics long has been ruled by truisms, conventional wisdom and intuition, with millions spent based on a murky mix of polling and focus groups. The shift to data-driven decision-making has been gradual and steady -- becoming increasingly sophisticated as political parties amass more information about individual voters through traditional means, such as polls, and new ones, such as data mining."
The result was obvious on election night. While, on
Political romantics like to think of elections in terms of historical trends, big issues, ideological passions and the ebb and flow of momentum. What they have not realized until now is that the underpinning of all those elements, simple human choices, can be sifted, quantified and predicted with remarkable precision if enough data can be amassed.