How competitive politics sharpened data tools and tactics - Axios

How competitive politics sharpened data tools and tactics

Greg Ruben / Axios

A data technology boom over the past 15 years has shaped how campaigns use technology to source, distribute and leverage voter data. Each campaign cycle brought new technology tools and talent to the mix, and as the timeline below shows, underscores how much each party has learned from — and innovated on top of— the other's successes and failures.

Why it matters: After the 2016 presidential election, both Republicans and Democrats are evaluating their past digital performance and strategizing for upcoming races. After Trump's surprise victory, sources say a major operational shakeup is in store for Democrats, who've enjoyed the lead in the digital race for nearly a decade. GOP operatives, who significantly grew their data and ground games since 2008, are continuing to develop big data platforms and new media tactics to better target specific voters while also broadening their base.

If you were sick of online political ads this last cycle, just wait for 2020.

Timeline of Republican and Democratic advances in campaign technology use over the past 15 years:

2002: GOP tries to rebound from Gore ground game: Observing the sophistication of Al Gore's ground game in 2000, Republicans, led by the RNC's Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, introduced a 72-hour program to organize field operations called "STOMP," the Strategic Task Force to Organize and Mobilize People for the 2002 midterms.

2004: Kerry lags behind Bush data infrastructure: STOMP served as a precursor for a Republican field data operation program called Team Leader in 2004. At that time, Republicans also brought in one of the first micro-targeting data firms called TargetPoint. John Kerry, in the meantime, found himself battling against an incumbent president with an established field program that Rove had strengthened while Kerry's team was focused on his primary run. In response to their loss, Democrats began to model their online toolset off of Team Leader to prepare for 2006 midterms.

2005: After Bush, GOP "dropped the data ball" and Howard Dean picked it up: A Republican source said that after Bush's 2004 reelection, Republicans "dropped the ball" on building and maintaining voter files and data, leaving an opening for Democrats to begin creating a solid data infrastructure for the next cycle. Learning from his 2004 loss, Howard Dean, the newly instated chairman of the Democratic National Committee, began advocating for a "50-state strategy" to mobilize the Democrats' ground game data collection to improve voter targeting.

2006-2007: Progressives formed their own data strategy: While the DNC strengthened their data tactics to support a primary candidate, progressives began to create their own data strategy. Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for policy Harold Ickes created Data Warehouse (later called Catalist) with a $10 million endowment from George Soros to house and analyze data outside of the DNC for progressives to use, should they decide to challenge a candidate in the primary.

2008: Obama revolutionized the data campaign, and the GOP took notice: Obama's 2008 campaign victory is largely attributed to its in-house data and analytics team. The campaign hired a data analytics firm called Strategic Telemetry to do similar work to what TargetPoint had done for Republicans in the previous cycle, only this time they were more sophisticated. The campaign used Strategic Telemetry to match voter file data with publicly available consumer data from the census and voter registration files. After the success of Obama's 2008 data machine, the RNC began to look towards 2012, knowing there would be an open seat within their party, with no incumbent to provide a data infrastructure. The RNC put out a proposal and hired Data Trust for the job, who they still use today.

2010: Data technology sees major advances: After the 2008 campaign ended, the DNC began to build out the data technology infrastructure that would be used in the 2012 presidential election and on the Republican side, the RNC was also building their own internal data team. It was the first time that hardware, used to store large amounts of data, and cutting-edge tools, like programmatic ad buying and email list-matching, were being developed for commercial use.

2012: DNC taps Obama data talent while GOP focuses on strategy: Some of the DNC's top analytics talent moved to the Obama campaign to recreate the President's 2008 success. The DNC enlisted TargetSmart, a data technology and consulting firm, to help enhance 2010 voter files for 2012 by using analytics databases that could store data to quickly answer questions about voters. They also worked with Catalist to create data models to overlay onto programmatic ad buys that could be used for persuasion and fundraising efforts — a technique the Republicans would champion four years later. Meanwhile, Republicans — coming off another presidential loss — focused their efforts on consolidating data between Data Trust and the RNC to get ready for a 2016 data comeback.

2013: Campaign vets spur data vendor growth: After 2012, some of the Obama campaign staffers started new data firms, like Blue Labs and Civis Analytics. Both firms would be used to help the Hillary Campaign the following cycle. Republicans started to lay the groundwork for 2016, talking with different data providers and vendors that they could partner with to help model and analyze their voter files.

2016: Republicans and Democrats invest big time in data: By the time 2016 rolled around, both the DNC and RNC had racked up a significant number of data partners and vendors to create the most refined, and sophisticated voter files and models. Republicans worked with their vendors; Deep Root, TargetPoint. The DNC continued to work with TargetSmart to refine their data and the Clinton campaign worked with Blue Labs staff that had joined the campaign to focus on data analytics in-house.

We wrote two other stories on this topic:

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Civis Analytics worked with the Clinton campaign in 2016.

Timeline: Devin Nunes and the Trump wiretapping claims


Devin Nunes is facing calls to resign as chairman of House Intelligence and refusing to share, even with his own committee, the sources of his claim that the Obama administration may have surveilled President Trump. Here's how we got to this point:

January 2015: Nunes, a six-term Congressman, becomes chairman of House Intelligence Committee.

November 2016: Nunes begins advising Trump transition team.

January 25, 2017: Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff announce they're investigating Russian election meddling, including possible communications between Russia and "political campaigns."

March 4: Trump accuses Barack Obama of having Trump Tower "wiretapped".

March 15: After initially defending Trump, Nunes says he does not believe Trump Tower was bugged. But he adds a caveat: Trump campaign communications could have been incidentally collected as part of wider surveillance efforts.

March 20: FBI Director James Comey testifies before Intel Committee, and refutes Trump's claims. Nunes reiterates that there was no "physical" wiretap, but repeats the possibility of incidental collection.

March 21: Nunes travels to White House grounds to review evidence of potential surveillance of Trump associates. The visit is not initially made public.

March 22:

  • Nunes holds unexpected press conference and says an unnamed individual (or individuals) showed him intelligence reports indicating the Obama administration captured communications involving Trump and/or his associates. He said it appeared to be legal, incidental collection but nonetheless seemed "inappropriate" and troubling.
  • Nunes briefs Trump before Schiff, despite Trump being a potential subject of the committee's investigation.
  • Trump says he feels "somewhat" vindicated.

March 23: Nunes expresses regret for failing to brief Intel committee before White House.

March 27:

  • News of Nunes' White House visit emerges.
  • He says he needed to visit WH to access to secure system, an explanation that is immediately challenged.
  • Schiff calls on Nunes to recuse himself from Russia investigation.

March 28:

  • Russia hearings scheduled for this week are abruptly cancelled, including one at which former acting AG Sally Yates was slated to testify.
  • The Washington Post reports (and the WH denies) that the Trump admin tried to block Yates from testifying.
  • Nunes says he will not share his sources for the Trump surveillance claims, even with his own committee.

Republicans block moves to release Trump's tax returns

Andrew Harnik / AP

Republicans blocked two separate attempts today — a resolution in the Ways and Means Committee and a resolution on the House floor — by House Democrats to force a release of President Trump's tax returns, per The Hill.

  • The Democratic argument from Rep. Zoe Lofren (CA): "I think it is absolutely essential for the president's tax returns to be released so that the members of the Judiciary Committee can do their job to research whether the Emoluments Clause has been violated and whether permission should be given to the president to receive payments from foreign states."
  • The Republican rebuttal from Rep. Kevin Brady (TX): The attempts do "absolutely nothing to promote a substantive policy discussion on the real-life challenges facing the people, families, and job creators we were sent here to serve."

White House boycotts correspondents' dinner in "solidarity" with Trump

Alex Brandon / AP

The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) has been informed that the entire White House staff will be skipping next month's White House Correspondents' Dinner in "solidarity" with President Trump.

The WH announced in February that Trump would not attend, with a spokeswoman saying at the time: "There's no reason for him to go in and sit and pretend like this is going to be just another Saturday night."

Of the full staff boycott, the WHCA said it "regrets this decision very much," adding: "Only the White House can speak to the signal it wants to send with this decision."


Manafort's finances in Cyprus trigger investigation

Matt Rourke / AP

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies whose activities triggered a money laundering investigation by a Cypriot bank, per NBC News.

  • One of the Manafort-associated companies was involved in a nearly $20 million deal with a Russian oligarch described as "one of the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis."
  • Manafort chose to close his Cypriot accounts rather than provide additional information after their activity triggered a money laundering investigation by the Cyprus Popular Bank.
  • The accounts were set up "for a legitimate business purpose," a Manafort spokesperson told NBC News.

House votes to roll back privacy protections for internet customers

Elise Amendola / AP

The House voted 215-to-205 Tuesday night to overturn Obama-era regulations that require internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to get a user's permission before sharing their browsing history and other data with advertisers. It also prohibits the FCC from creating similar regulations in the future.

The White House has said it will recommend that President Trump sign the resolution, which was already approved by the Senate.

What it means for broadband providers: The rules hadn't yet gone into effect so this doesn't change the day-to-day ways that ISPs deal with customer data. But this likely clears the way for ISPs to go full speed ahead in taking on Facebook and Google for digital ad dollars. Meanwhile, the FCC will have to determine how to deal with privacy on broadband networks without the rules in place.

What it means for net neutrality: The vote could roil the waters on a larger debate over net neutrality. The privacy rules only exist because of the FCC's 2015 net neutrality regulations, which conservatives hate and liberals love. So this rollback — should the president sign it into law — adds a new wrinkle to that conversation.

  • One key lawmaker said this could make a legislative deal on net neutrality more difficult. "I mean, after this today, if this goes through, this is like a sledgehammer, right?" said Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House's Energy and Commerce Committee, adding, when asked about the chances of a net neutrality bill in light of the upcoming vote, "I'm always willing to meet with people but I think this really poisons the well."
  • Republican Sen. John Thune, who will likely lead any effort to reach a deal, said he would be willing to consider adding privacy protections to a legislative compromise on net neutrality "if that were something that it took to get Democrats to the table." Marsha Blackburn, who chairs a key tech subcommittee and sponsored the House resolution to roll back the privacy rules, said that she didn't think the vote would make getting a deal more difficult. "We're doing what needs to be done," she told Axios.

Ryan and McConnell seem to diverge on Obamacare

J. Scott Applewhite / AP; J. Scott Applewhite / AP

At the House GOP Leadership press conference this morning, Paul Ryan seemed to indicate that Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare aren't done yet:

"We want to get it right, we're gonna keep talking to each other until we get it right. I'm not gonna put a timeline on it because this is too important to not get right."

But it seemed like Mitch McConnell didn't get that message before the Senate GOP Leadership press conference this afternoon:

"I want to thank the president and speaker — they went all out to try to pass repeal and replacement. Sorry that didn't work, but our Democratic friends now have the law that they wrote and wanted. And we'll see how that works out."


Here comes Brexit

Christopher Furlong / AP

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May signed a letter this afternoon that officially declared the country's intention to leave the European Union. Addressed to European Council President Donald Tusk, it'll be hand delivered by Sir Tim Barrow, the British ambassador to the E.U., to Brussels tomorrow afternoon.


Dunkin' Donuts and Waze will order your coffee

Mike Mozart via Flickr CC

Boston is gearing up for a mass descent on drive thru lines: Google's Waze, the traffic navigation app, is teaming up with Dunkin' Donuts to order coffee for drivers before they arrive at brick and mortar stores, according to The Boston Globe.

If this goes well, Waze will expand the "order ahead" function to other merchants.

The partnership: Waze doesn't earn a commission on the Dunkin' Donuts sales, but Dunkin' Donuts is increasing the amount it spends on Waze ads. To place an order, users will need both the Waze and the Dunkin' Donuts apps installed and be registered with the Dunkin' loyalty program.

Why it matters: Brand loyalty for Dunkin' and Waze. Note, Starbucks had a similar partnership announced last week with Amazon's Alexa and Ford vehicles. The Dunkin' Donuts-Waze partnership allows anyone — not just Ford drivers with Alexa — to take advantage, but will bring people time and time again to both Waze and Dunkin'.


Nunes won't share surveillance source with own committee

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes will not share the sources behind his claim that the Obama administration may have surveilled President Trump and/or his associates - even with his own committee.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, has already called on Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after it emerged that the chairman was on White House grounds when he reviewed the alleged evidence behind his claims. One House Republican, Walter Jones, echoed that call today.

Nunes is under increasing pressure, but made this defiant statement to a Fox News reporter today:

We will never reveal those sources and methods

Spicer tells reporter to stop shaking her head

During today's press briefing, Sean Spicer claimed that people would claim there was a Russia connection if Trump used Russian salad dressing, to which white house correspondant April Ryan began shaking her head. Spicer told her not to...

And Ryan tweeted in response:

Ryan then talked to CNN about the interaction: