Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’


Twitter as a micro-targeted mobilization tool

Higher rates of Twitter usage for blacks and for sub/urban dwellers, but neither category is anywhere near as strongly predictive as age. (Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project)

Yesterday I mentioned the turnout uncertainty of Barack Obama’s young and black supporters, built at least partly on the perception that their votes aren’t needed to get Obama over the top. These aren’t people who need to be persuaded to vote for Obama, but they do need to be persuaded to vote. We know that simply being asked to vote does a surprisingly good job of getting people to the polls, which suggests that the Obama campaign to target these would-be voters with a GOTV message. Traditionally, this is the domain of the campaign’s ground operation, but is that still the best or only thing to rely on?

The demographic make-up of the “unlikely” supporters makes Twitter a potentially attractive venue in which to build a new kind of targeted messaging strategy. Looking at the most recent available data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (from August 2011, unfortunately), the familiar Twitter usage pattern emerges. Overall usage is about 9.3% of the population — that’s the entire population, not just Internet users, which is the denominator Pew generally uses in their reports. But there’s a clear racial difference, with blacks using Twitter at an 18.4% rate and non-blacks at 8.0%, and an even stronger age relationship. Of those in the 18-24 group (who were mostly not old enough to vote in 2008, keep in mind), 14.4% use Twitter; for 25-34-year-olds, it’s 16.4%, and after that it drops off considerably.

But the big finding for a social messaging campaign is that race and age interact — blacks in those youngest two age groups use Twitter at rates of 33.3% and 22.6%, respectively. Not surprisingly, the division between urban/suburban and rural somewhat mirrors the racial division. The two youngest age groups respectively have 20.3% and 17.2% usage among urban and suburban residents, but just 8.3% and 10.2% among rural residents. Compare this all with Facebook, which sees no race or community type relationships — only age — across its 60% overall usage rate.

The greater prevalence of Twitter in cities suggests something of a geographic bias to its structure, and that’s something that could be leveraged in a GOTV campaign — after all, the “get out” outcome is a pretty key part of such an operation. But its social messaging structure would also be key, allowing the campaign to create starting point messages that could be retweeted and shared throughout a trust-driven social network. Twitter’s differences from Facebook come into play here, as well. Because Twitter is just a message-sharing platform (as opposed to a game/calendar/affinity/etc. platform), it could encourage the spreading of GOTV messages, particularly to individuals who might use it primarily for non-political purposes (e.g., following celebrities or talking with friends).

These messages would be received not by a representative part of the population, but disproportionately by young city-dwellers, meaning they could be targeted with that audience in mind. In fact, once the network is built up, individuals could potentially be targeted with messages tailored either for themselves or to be spread out to their networks. In a way, this approach is the opposite of what they did in 2008 with the My.BarackObama.com site, which facilitated connections within the context of the campaign, and only between those already committed enough to come in and sign up for another social network site. Targeting existing Twitter users and their extended, potentially local networks would bring the campaign to the doorstep of the loosely affiliated voter.

Filed: We R in Control || 8:38, August 21 || No Comments »


Ground and pound

Interesting fact I learned while researching this post: West Virginia is less black than Wisconsin. (Photo by Matt Dell)

I spent the summer busy with travel and research, and let the blog go on hiatus. Well, fall classes start today, so now’s a great time to get back to procrastinating thinking out loud.

USA Today and Suffolk University released an interesting survey of “unlikely” voters a few days ago, which has gotten quite a bit of attention. It’s worth noting that their methodology is unclear in the report — they’ve got a sample of 800, but was that simply culled from a larger, general sample that also included some number of likely voters? At any rate, the big takeaway is that unlikely voters strongly favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, though about one-fifth say they would vote for a third-party candidate if they were to vote. This is perhaps the strongest evidence yet for the importance of turnout to Obama’s chances. In 2008, he got much bigger than usual turnout from traditionally low-turnout groups, most notably young adults and African-Americans. Many of these voters are probably still turning up as “unlikely” in typical polling models.

But a deeper look inside the data shows just where the Obama ground campaign is needed the most: convincing overconfident supporters that their vote is needed. Three-quarters of “unlikely” black voters expect Obama to win, but almost all say they would vote if they felt it could swing the election. Now, this probably shouldn’t be taken too literally, since no one really expects the election to come down to one vote, but it is worth thinking about how and where energized black turnout to have the most impact. Of the ten states with the highest proportion of African-Americans, six are solid red, two are solid blue, and North Carolina and Virginia are up for grabs. These were big Obama takeaways in 2008, in part because of black turnout. Florida is number 11 on that list, and carrying those three swing states would basically clinch the election.

The assumption in 2008 was that the Obama campaign had a great turnout operation, but I’m not sure if anyone knows whether that’s true or not — his candidacy certainly energized a lot of black voters on its own, but that doesn’t mean the campaign necessarily did anything extra-special to get them out to vote. If the campaign has data similar to what this poll shows, they would be well served by targeting black voters now, not with persuasive appeals that are largely unnecessary, but with sobering reminders that the election isn’t over until it’s over.

Filed: We R in Control || 10:12, August 20 || No Comments »


Who will Huntsman endorse?

Jon Huntsman isn’t going to win the presidency next year. He’s also not going to win the Republican presidential nomination, and he probably won’t even win the primary in his home state of Utah — a July poll gives Mitt Romney 63% to Huntsman’s 10%. He was Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, and he’s spent most of his time in the campaign first meekly and then aggressively declaring his moderate bona fides. So why is he in the race? Some have speculated that he’s just trying to raise name-recognition for a 2016 run, likely against a crowd of lower-profile opponents. Others suggest he’s running for the VP nomination in 2012. Presumably conventional wisdom doesn’t find him cynical enough to think he’s running just to land a book deal in 2013.

As it happens, I don’t really care why he’s running. When his campaign ends, it’ll just be another data-point in the history of failed presidential runs. What I’m really interested in is the question of who Huntsman will endorse. It’s clear that Huntsman is not happy with where his party and most of its presidential candidates are at policy-wise. He’s recently come out of the science closet with strong, counter-partisan statements of belief in both evolution and anthropomorphic climate change. The Republican most like him is Mitt Romney, who’s been running hard to the right of late, but Huntsman has recently gone after him for both his lack of any coherent belief structure and his terrible record on job creation.

Assume Huntsman wins few delegates and Romney cleanly secures the nomination. Romney’s core technocratic self is probably not that different from Huntsman’s, but a President Romney would be seriously indebted to the GOP fringes that Huntsman is trying to reassert the center-right’s dominance over. On the other hand, the next most Huntsman-like candidate will also be on the general election ballot in 2012 — Barack Obama. Huntsman went after Obama recently, as well, but it was a fairly tepid assault, claiming that he should’ve taken to the bully pulpit earlier, that he’s “too far left” and that he ought to quit using teleprompters. That’s some tired, easy stuff, with none of the oomph found in what he’s said recently about Romney, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry. So what’s the likelihood that he endorses Obama? “President Obama and I have our differences, but he is the only candidate taking our dire economic situation seriously, blah blah blah.” Huntsman’s main constituency is the Washington press corps, and he must know that this is the kind of thing that would make a big splash with them, both at the time and when he does whatever he does next.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think Huntsman’s endorsement will matter, but as the Republican party continues its rightward march, I do think it’s interesting to watch what its few remaining moderates might do to try to regain control. Elite signalling that even a technocratic nominee is too beholden to the fringe would only be a first step, but it’s a step.

Filed: We R in Control || 14:47, August 21 || 1 Comment »


Keep talking

For the most part, I’m not interested in giving the Koch brothers legitimate political advice; even if I were so interested, they’re probably not reading this anyway. But I will say that David Koch, in knocking Barack Obama over the Bin Laden raid, is wasting an opportunity:

He just made the decision, it was obvious where the guy is. He was one of the worst terrorists organizing attacks on the United States. I mean, no president in his right mind would not approve that decision to go eliminate him. So he’s getting a lot of recognition and his polls have jumped up, but his decision was the easiest of them all. The real hard work was done by the intelligence and the SEALs.

Never mind that there actually was some significant risk in approving this operation, and never mind that both George W. Bush and John McCain foreswore undertaking such an operation without consulting Pakistan and its unreliable intelligence service — Koch also called Obama a “hardcore socialist” and “scary,” so it’s not like these comments are an example of reasoned public policy thinking. Going after Obama does two things that are both bad for Koch (and the other right-wingers who are doing the same). First, it makes Koch look like a petty whiner. That may not be a super-big deal for him, because he’s not running for anything, but thanks to Scott Walker, Koch is now a fairly well-known figure in ultra-conservative politics and should be thinking about his image.

But much more importantly, the longer the Bin Laden raid is salient in the public mind, the longer Obama’s approval will stay inflated. Krosnick and Kinder produced a seminal paper over 20 years ago on the effects of priming on presidential approval. Back then they looked at data from a 1986 survey that was in the field when the Iran-Contra affair came to light. What they found, not surprisingly, is that Ronald Reagan’s Central America policy played a larger role in his job approval after the revelations than before. In that case it was bad for the president, because the salient new information was negative; in the modern example, it’s good for the president, because the new information is seen as positive by the public. If Koch and the rest would avoid turning this into a confrontation, either by simply congratulating Obama or by just shutting up, the press would lose an easy way to keep the story bigger and more lively, it would fade from salience more quickly, returning the focus to the economic issues on which Obama is vulnerable.

But David, by all means, keep talking.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:34, May 5 || No Comments »


Blogger, read thyself

Every once in a while you’ll read a bit of commentary about an opinion columnist or editorialist making some claim that flatly contradicts facts in reporting by that columnist’s own news organization (see, e.g., the disconnect between editorial and reporting in the Washington Post). There are all sorts of potential reasons for this happening, and it provides a lot of fodder for eager media critics in the blogosphere.

But I was really surprised to see this coming from a blogger, and particularly one who is generally quite insightful. Steve Benen, the blogger behind the Washington Monthly‘s Political Animal, has an op-ed in the New York Daily News today suggesting that Barack Obama could be successful in the upcoming legislative session by co-opting Republican ideas that he largely agrees with and supports. The two examples he gives are presenting John McCain’s 2008 cap and trade system and George W. Bush’s immigration reform plan as his own bipartisan proposals. How could Republicans suddenly oppose things they’d so recently supported? Put aside the fact that Republicans, en masse, were never fans of either of those proposals. Republicans just did this! The health care bill that almost every congressional Republican voted against was nearly identical to the Clinton-era Republican counter-proposal and the system signed into law in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. In 2009, that market-driven, Republican-approved plan became a socialist plan to pull the plug on grandma.

The point of this, though, is not to make a counter-argument to Benen’s op-ed. It’s to point out that he spelled out why this can’t work just yesterday in a post called “When (and Why) Bipartisanship Is Impossible.” In it, he notes exactly the health care process that played out last year, and quotes Ezra Klein noting that Democratic moves toward (then through and past) the center are always met with Republican moves to the right. So it was very surprising to read this from Benen, and it’s hard not to wonder if the venue — a daily metro newspaper, as opposed to a blog hosted by a monthly opinion journal — influenced his argument and the conclusion he reached.

Filed: Watching the Detectives || 11:47, November 14 || No Comments »


Journalists, sources and cognitive dissonance

Two news stories today that feature totally contradictory ideas coming from the same source, with no attempt by the journalist to explain. One, a George Stephanopoulos piece on Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) entitled, “Sen. Conrad: Extend All Tax Cuts; Time to Get ‘Serious’ About Deficit.” In the piece, Conrad is quoted as saying: “I proposed some weeks ago that we extend all the tax cuts for a period of time until we are able to fundamentally reform the tax system. Because that is what is required in part here along with spending reductions. Both are going to have to be done if we are going to get out of this deep hole.” It’s not at all clear how tax cuts and spending cuts lead to deficit reduction, and unfortunately Stephanopoulos neither presses Conrad to explain this self-contradictory statement, nor does he explain to his audience the role revenues and expenditures actually play in creating deficits.

In the other, a story from Bloomberg, we find this lede: “Investors around the world say President Barack Obama is bad for the bottom line, even though U.S. corporations are on track for the biggest earnings growth in 22 years and the stock market is headed for its best back-to- back annual gains since 2004.” Later, this: “Worldwide, 63 percent of all respondents say his policies are detrimental to the U.S. investment climate. That number increases to 68 percent among U.S. investors, even though the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen more than 43 percent since Obama was inaugurated in January 2009 and corporate profits have rebounded almost to the pre-recession peak reached in 2006.” Author Mike Dorning goes into territory that Stephanopoulos avoids by directly contrasting the attitudes of poll respondents to actual investment outcomes during Obama’s time in office. Interestingly, he does little to point out contradictions in respondents’ open-ended answers about their views of Obama, perhaps because the respondents largely traffic in talking points about the “uncertainty” and “lack of clarity” in future fiscal and regulatory policy. Divergent results between US and foreign investors suggest that US investors may be responding with their personal financial interests in mind — 60% of them think all the Bush tax cuts should be extended, as opposed to just 30% of foreign investors.

This prompts a couple of questions for me. The first one is broad, and is one that my grad school colleague Ray Pingree dealt with in his dissertation: What is the effect of the press refusing to adjudicate fact-based disputes? In each of these cases, contradictions arise over fairly basic and well-accepted facts: lowering revenues (e.g., by cutting taxes) increases deficits, business profits and economic growth are up under Obama. How is the audience supposed to interpret stories that don’t allow those pieces of information to have a privileged position?

This question is much more relevant to traditional “on the one hand, on the other” coverage, which quotes each side and doesn’t adjudicate. What makes these two stories interesting is that it’s the same sources dealing with two conflicting pieces of information. Conrad says we need tax cuts and deficit reduction. Investors say Obama is bad for the economy even though their profits are through the roof. There are issues here for the audience, to be sure. Do they even process this type of story the way they might process a more typical “argument” story? Do they understand, without prompting from the reporter, that there’s any dissonance in what the source is saying? Dorning seems to think they might, and balances many of Bloomberg’s poll findings with actual economic data. Stephanopoulos doesn’t take that step, potentially leaving readers so much in the dark that they don’t even know the light exists. Let there be light, George! Let there be light!

Filed: Watching the Detectives || 13:32, November 11 || No Comments »