More than 4 million people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 did not vote this year. But by applying new voter science, Obama nudged enough replacements in key states — many who were rare or first-time voters — to give him his margin of victory (leveraged even larger by the Electoral College).
Years of stealthy multimillion-dollar efforts paid off forAmerica’s left in the 2008 and 2012 victories by President Barack Obama. Using new voter science to get rare and first-time voters to go to the polls, the races have changedAmerica’s electorate — those who make the country’s decisions by showing up and voting.
Aided by $5 million minimum from George Soros, plus millions more from others, at least two secretive institutions were created to enable this effort by focused research on behavioral science. Their results are made available only to liberals and their causes.
Those are findings from writer Sasha Issenberg. In an interview with me on my “Istook Live!” radio program, Issenberg put a special spotlight on the Analyst Institute (AI), which he has called “a firm quietly founded in 2007 by AFL-CIO officials and liberal allies.”
The AI has been quietly stacked with behavioral scientists, mostly PhDs or PhD candidates from Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale,Princeton, andDartmouth(with Notre Dame andUniversityofChicagothrown in for good measure). They coordinate with market researchers for various commercial products. AI materials brag that the Institute supports “a community of 400 data analysts and related professionals in collaborating and sharing their findings through monthly Analyst Group meetings and retreats.”
Issenberg’s book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns details more history, as do his articles written for Salon.com.
As Issenberg told me, “The big leap in the last five or six years has come from Democrats looking to commercial markets. Campaigns are able to see in the real world what is pushing voters to change their behavior.” He says this has reversed the advantage that Republicans had enjoyed after 2004 when they began using micro-targeting to categorize voters.
The progressive cause’s analysts look for “sweet spots in the electorate,” gathering as many as 1,000 points of data on each voter, far more than in most surveys.
Although not made public, the findings are shared with the other special organization that Issenberg explains was created to apply the research. This is Catalist, headed by longtime Democrat operative Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff in the Bill Clinton White House.
Catalist’s website describes its mission: “To provide progressive organizations with the data and services needed to better identify, understand, and communicate with the people they need to persuade and mobilize.”
Their website, www.catalist.us, identifies 237 clients, including more than 50 Members of Congress, Planned Parenthood, Rock the Vote, the Democratic Governors Association, AFL-CIO, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, Emily’s List, Sierra Club, Families USA—basically the entire inner circle of the Left.
Catalist helps its clients to apply the research done by the Analyst Institute. For example, one basic finding was that door-to-door contact far exceeds the success from any other form of communicating with voters. That led to the Obama campaign’s intensive focus on that approach. But there was plenty more to apply.
Issenberg told the radio audience:
The Obama campaign wrote a $22,000 check every month to the Analyst Institute; it looked like a consulting contract the same way they would pay a media consultant to make their ads. The Analyst Institute was consulting with them on how to run experiments and had a full-time staff member stationed in Chicago…So it serves all the sort of functions and the intellectual culture of the left of a think tank but has all the secrecy that a consulting firm would…They don’t have to actually show who their investors are or any sort of audit.
AI also makes available to progressive groups what its documents describe as “memos summarizing hundreds of experiments on topics including GOTV [Get Out the Vote],…persuasion, identifying persuadable voters, and preventing long lines on Election Day.”
In 2008, AI reported it had “partnered with dozens of organizations to execute 44 large-scale field experiments. Topics included which voters are ‘persuadable,’ [and] how behavioral science insights can be translated into voter contact tactics.”
AI listed its 2009 and 2010 priorities as research that included:
- What Are The Predictors Of Persuadability?
- Increase The Use Of Impact?Based Communications.
- Which Advocacy Tactics Are Most Effective?
- How Can We Best Use Social Networking Technology?
- How Can We Effectively Engage Surge Voters?
- Can We Experimentally, And Quickly, Test The Impact Of Television Ads?
- Enhance Skills Of The Progressive Data Community.
According to Issenberg, the funding to develop this research capability came from liberal donors unhappy with the money they “wasted” in 2004 in efforts to defeat George W. Bush by funneling a fortune through 527 groups.
Issenberg told the audience that these donors included the deep-pocketed billionaire George Soros, “and they felt—how Crossroads and Restore Our Future donors may be feeling now—that their money was wasted; and they started focusing not on making big contributions to win a single election but to institution-building. And so they’ve spent years of investing; it’s hard to put a price on what it adds up to but now those institutions are basically paying for themselves…They want to make Democrats better at winning elections.”
Those multimillion-dollar investments have provided an edge to the Obama campaign in how to persuade and turn out voters. Since 2008, according to Issenberg, the GOP has marked time rather than catching up, in part because “the chairmanship of the RNC changed three times in the last four years.”
While Democrats enjoined four years of unity and a known incumbent candidate, “Mitt Romney had to fight a primary. The best-case scenario is that he would have only six or nine months to sort of rev up. I’m not convinced that they took great advantage of those six or nine months.”
As Issenberg writes in The Victory Lab, the work of Analyst Institute has “upended much of what the political world thought it knew about how voters’ minds work, and dramatically changed the way that campaigns approach, cajole, and manipulate them.“
Applying that research is no guarantee of winning, “but experimental insights could decide close races—by nudging turnout up two points here, six points there.”
Those nudges added up to give Obama his margin of victory.
Tune in to Istook Live! online every weekday, 9 a.m.-noon ET.