Good News: OFA Won’t Be Transferred

Obama For America, which is Obama’s magic turnout machine, won’t be transferred to another candidate. As much as one might appreciate the human political talents of Presidents like Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton, qualities Obama is generally lacking by comparison, Obama’s talent with the raw mechanics of the political process is unrivaled. Or at the least, he was smart enough to hire very smart people to put the OFA machine together. Many of the things OFA did are truly, and stunningly innovative, and their use of new Information Technology to drive turnout has been unheard of until 2008, and then again in 2012.

If the GOP were smart (which is questionable most days) they would be studying the OFA machine in detail and figuring out how to copy it. Despite the fact that OFA will not be handed off to the next standard bearer of the Democratic brand, the Democrats will still retain significant institutional knowledge from OFA. If the Republicans fail to copy these techniques, it would only further doom them to electoral failure.

22 thoughts on “Good News: OFA Won’t Be Transferred”

  1. Personally, I find it hard to believe that virtually every possible political tactic isn’t known and understood by both major political parties today. The question is, how they apply them.

    I think that the Republicans were masterful at motivating and turning out their base, certainly for the last four years. This may sound overly simplistic, but the fault in that tactic was in not recognizing that that base can no longer carry a national election in America.

    Supposing that the Republican Party will choose to continue in existence, it’s only choice is to choose a new base. That will certainly gall many in the old base, but it will be either that, or (like, say, the Libertarian Party) assume that if they talk long enough, they can persuade people to see things their way. The issue-votes in this election seemed to suggest that is not going to happen right away. (And ironically, the issue votes tended to lean libertarian, but don’t expect that to benefit the LP very much.)

    1. There’s a lot of very specific targeting OFA was doing using data mining and social media. They weren’t targeting at the demographic level, they were targeting down to individual voters. The GOP has never done anything like that, because it requires a lot of data mining, and spending money on people who know how to do that kind of thing and make use of the data. Romney ran a pretty good campaign, if he had been running in 1996. One thing that surprised me is that OFA was making use of iPad apps to help coordinate volunteers, a technology that didn’t exist in 2008. The GOP has never done anything like that. Even NRA, who’s institutional IT knowledge is pretty poor, makes the GOP look bad. The GOP is failing with young voters, and part of that is likely they aren’t using the right technology to be able to reach them.

      1. Frankly, that they are not passing this info on to the next candidate makes me suspicious about at least some of it. This kind of tactical advantage is one that politicians will attempt to exploit long-term, to the advantage of their partisans; that the administration is not doing so makes me wonder what is in their whiz-bang machine that they don’t want others to know about. . . .

        1. I think he’s trying to cement his legacy. If his secret sauce is OFA, and if OFA can be turned over to any old candidate and they can win, then what was he? I’m not quite as suspicious of it. If anyone could use OFA and win, the Democratic Party wouldn’t need Obama. That a Democratic Party that didn’t need Obama because it was winning is a lot worse than a Democratic Party that is struggling and needs Obama’s help. Clinton would have done the same thing. Clinton kind of did do the same thing :)

          1. Obama was and is the historic candidate. He is the myth of JFK finally made flesh once more – something the Dems had been trying to do for 50 years. The Dems need at least the myth of Obama badly – they cannot do without him in that regard.

            As to OFA, decent odds that Axelrod, Messina and company take the datasets, the critical 20% of the psyc and quant staff, and set up as guns for hire.

      2. Does anybody have a good markup on the techniques and tricks used? Some of it, like the cult of personality fostered by the press, will be hard to usurp; I cant help but think that we could use some of these techniques in down-ticket races. The battlefield is changing, and a study if enemy tactics could prove quite useful.

        1. There was a WaPo article yesterday on some of it. I’ve read other bits elsewhere. I’d really like to learn more myself, because the bits I’ve seen are impressive.

      3. I know I’m going to sound like the classic old fart, but I think there are times that high-tech distracts from understanding the basics.

        The business about OFA reminds me of how, c. 1995, some of the leadership of the Libertarian Party in Pennsylvania became convinced that buying a big-bucks hard drive (did we have gigabyte HDs in those days? I forget!) that would enable them to buy the voter rolls for every county and voter in the state was going to be the technological magic bullet that would lead to the Great LP Breakout. You’ve seen how they’ve been ripping up those big percentages of the vote totals ever since, right?

        I’m sorry. I shouldn’t dismiss things. But I’ve seen too many wild enthusiasms go nowhere, while being substituted for practical fact-facing. Micro-analysis of the voter rolls was not very important while loons were climbing flagpoles and broadcasting “Support us! We’re all effin’ crazy!”

        1. Well, I was skeptical of this too until we just got our asses handed to us by a campaign utilizing technology to drive turnout. I don’t know a whole lot of details about what they are doing. I’m sure if it was completely transparent, a lot of what they did is mostly bullshit, but if you have enough people thinking up ideas, there might be at least some that are genuinely innovative and useful.

          The Libertarian Party has a huge mountain to climb to get anywhere. The major parties need to, in this election, as an example, come up with 500,000 out of 118 million votes to swing it one way or another. Most elections get won on the margins.

          1. Last things first, I only use the LP as a microcosm for making analogies — though I do harbor residual affections, having left it amicably, only after recognizing how hopeless human nature was making its efforts. (And not to double back, but I think the Republicans might have something to learn about that.)

            I’m trying to understand where the Democrats’ sophisticated outreach was supposed to be. I’ve been registered “No Party,” for about 17 years now (with a smattering of primary election switches to Republican, for a few weeks at a time) and my wife has been registered Democratic since 1967, when she turned 21. I would say the snail mail we got was typical, and possibly less than usual, though the number of phone calls was greater. But, I saw no apparent pattern in the phone calls, except they were somewhat weirder than usual, including robocalls from people as diverse as Billy Graham and Bob Barker, pitching for Romney, and Bill Clinton pitching for Boockvar. The party balance was about as usual, including those contacts that I know came from my wife’s past organizational affiliations.

            And, the only communication I got from the NRA was the orange card for Fitzpatrick; but then I’m paranoid enough to believe I’m a somewhat special case with them, as Life Members go.

            The bottom line is, I neither saw nor heard anything that would suggest either of us was targeted for our narrow personal interests.

            1. Except at the end, either due to bad polling or a Hail Mary by Team Romney, Pennsylvania was never in play. So neither side would have made a serious Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort with your household.

              For that matter, one of the things that’s been cited in Romney’s loss is that he outsourced much of his GOTV effort, and evidently the RNC is still not doing that, Michael Steele punted on it in 2010, I suppose Team Romney told the RNC they were handling it since they had the money….

              But SOMEONE should had tried to get you to the polls to vote for Tom Smith, unless it was viewed that race was hopeless (and certainly they should have tried to point out Casey was not exactly his father’s son…).

              Assuming, of course, you aren’t in the Master Republican Voter Database as “Would rather go to a concentration camp than vote for another Republican” ^_^.

        2. WRT to your technology question, I just found a price list I saved in August 1996: a 1-2 GB IDE hard drive would set you back by $170 to ~$300 dollars. More for higher capacity or for enterprise drives (which also require a cable and a controller, but even then there weren’t super expensive, nor would they have been in the previous year.

    2. You must be joking? The reason the Rs lost is because the base stayed home.

  2. The problem with this technology and the GOP is that this is an individual voter model. Small subsets of people are targeted individually. While this sounds nice to some on the right, the simple truth is that the GOP does not want to cater to multiple constituencies. They have always been for a few big things, and everything else can get out of the way.

    I am all for the tech and think they need it, but only after they accept the fact that not everyone who will vote for them is an evangelical or some other social conservative. Once they shed themselves of the “government small enough to fit into your bedroom” mentality, they can start taking advantage of technology that let’s individuals know that they are working to increase their liberty, not reduce their options.

    I though the GOP had this one last election to figure this out. I was wrong. They lost it already.

    The Dems are happy because they are looking at 20 years of dominance. Seriously. If the GOP base couldn’t beat Obama, they cannot win again. They need a complete revamp from the ground up.

    So it doesn’t matter that the GOP doesn’t have something like OFA. The simple truth is they are not ready to use it.

    1. “If the GOP base couldn’t beat Obama, they cannot win again.”

      Far be it from me to ever retreat to optimism, but do you remember the little book, “The Last Democrat,” from the late ’90s that argued that once Bill Clinton left office, that would be the last Democratic president, ever?

      Never underestimate the capacity for any faction to reach out and grab defeat from the jaws of victory. And, remember that eventually circumstances beyond anyone’s control are going to assert themselves.

      P.S.: I liked your “government small enough to fit into your bedroom” line. I plan to borrow it, often.

    2. While endorsing pretty much everything Andy B. says in reply, I simply do not see the Republican party as a whole, especially at the national level, being so tied to social conservationism. They *might* get a bit more from the party than we do (e.g. denying Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (i.e. 99% useless since undifferentiated -> something like cancer every time it’s been tried but once)), but how can you say that about a party that nominated two times in a row anti-social cons:

      McCain was utterly vicious towards them after he lost the 2000 Presidential primary. Went after us too on the “gun show loophole”, even achieved results on the ground in Oregon.

      Romney was never a social conservative, I’ve even read that due to personal family experience he was “pro-choice”. No one with two brain cells to rub together believed his battlefield conversions to anything conservative. I mean, the guy himself made a totally clear tell when he described himself as a “severe” conservative.

      1. I’d suggest the simplistic answer that a party is known by the company it keeps — no matter what a small percentage of the company that is. As in high school, when you could have dozens of average friends, but you’d become suspect if you were too friendly with one or two serious bad actors — even though you behaved yourself.

        Whatever McCain may in fact have done, the thing he’ll be known for is picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. She was a bad choice, easily painted to be a loon, whether you believe she was or not. And from the liberal side of things, every time Romney pandered to loon elements among social conservatives during the primary season, the liberal media (by that I mean, the media unabashedly directed at liberals) played it up. Romney would do nothing to distance himself from the worst elements among the Religious Right, when they would make bigoted statements, etc. So, the “medium information” level voters who heard about it were turned off. Women were turned off. Hispanics were turned off, even those Hispanic constituencies that plausibly might haven been expected to support Republicans. People who had gay loved ones were turned off, and of course, gays themselves.

        I hope you’ll forgive me again falling back on my Libertarian Party experiences of a couple decades ago, but: When I was county LP chairman, I and my circle insisted on, that we would run nothing but pristine, quality candidates. Loons and cranks need not approach us. I was serious enough about that, that I refused to be a candidate, because I knew my weaknesses. We ran few candidates, but contrary to conventional wisdom, began to make progress. We had a candidate that was endorsed by the local mainstream daily paper, and who got more of the vote than any minor party candidate prior to that time. We got ballot status in the county. The newspaper began insisting that I be included in “tripartisan” activities, where formerly only the R and D county chairmen would meet.

        But to shorten the story, we lost control to irresistible forces and a new county committee and chairman was imposed by the state committee. That fall the old strategy of “filling the line on the ballot” was returned to, with any candidate who was warm and breathing accepted. There was a candidate who at age 45, had already worked his way up to supermarket cart boy. There were candidates who went on the radio and made racist and anti-semitic pronouncements. In that election, LP vote totals returned to the one percent and less range, and the newspaper returned to ignoring LP candidates (unless they were too outrageous to be ignored) and ignoring party press releases. I had already left the party at that point (knowing what was coming) but in not much more than 18 months it totally disappeared from public view. Something similar happened at the state level.

        But the point of the story is that most LP members were good, decent, presentable people. But, a few of the candidates permitted to run were loons, and that was all it took to destroy several years of hard work on the part of the rest of us. The party was known by the worst examples that were put forth in public. And frankly, since we had proven that could be avoided, I felt there was nothing at all unfair about it. The party was known by its candidates.

        1. I think we must realize now that anyone who isn’t a major national figure like Bob Dole, G. H. W. Bush, Jack Kemp, Dick Cheney or Paul Ryan is going to get the Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin treatment (Spiro Agnew was picked before I was politically aware, and things were a bit more civilized back then, plus I wonder if the MSM really believed Nixon could win in ’68). In a matter of hours they’ll go from being a relatively obscure but respected figures to worse than total idiots. Since of course the MSM has too great a lock on this (plus popular culture, e.g. see Russia from my house as opposed to the furthermost western island(s) of the state) and the Republicans continue to play ball with them….

          As for not letting in the loons, well, blame the Progressives for opening up the nominating system. Wise old party bosses in smoke filled (eeek!) rooms no longer have a role in this, parties can’t pick their candidates. Extra ugly in a party that’s been in a state of civil war since 1964 or so.

          Don’t know about the distancing. Akin, for sure, needed to be distanced from due to his egomania (not sure how you do that). Murdock was slandered by the media, although of course he shouldn’t have said anything. Shouldn’t have let the MSM have a role at all in his campaign, as noted above. Although I gather his biggest problem was Team Lugar continuing to trash him after they lost the primary (see note above about civil war).

          However, the putative leader of a party can only go so far in trashing members of it before he becomes non-viable, especially in a party that values loyalty. Plus, could Romney have said anything less than “Once I become President I will throw Todd Akin in jail” to sufficiently distance himself, given the MSM’s spin on whatever he said?

  3. Wow. According to this, which has the ring of truth for someone like me who started programming in 1977 (sic), Team Romney indeed took over the entire GOTV effort … and totally botched it.

    Now, if that’s true, we ought be hearing a lot more from these 30,000+ screwed over election day volunteers. And if it’s true, it’s entirely possible this alone caused Romney to lost the race.

    More from (spit) Politico.

    1. More, from’s Big Government, “Inside Orca: How the Romney Campaign Suppressed Its Own Vote“, and from Twitchy, a Michelle Malkin Twitter curation site, “Did Romney campaign’s Project Orca sink GOP turnout? Users claim an ‘epic fiasco’“. These, and especially the latter (which people who know Twitter might want to use to look for more), give this more credibility. And, again, it rings true.

      You know, as much as I despise Obama and his works, I don’t get a feeling of the depth of the sheer incompetence that I got from Carter back in the ’70s. And this make’s Romney’s “I’m going to fix it” sales pitch a little less credible; obviously neither man was directly involved in their IT election efforts but each picked people to do it, or rather people to pick people … and Obama’s not so bad at that.

      1. I don’t know what Sebastian will say about this, but someone in my family has been a software engineer and developer for about 15 years now, and I know a little of the lore about how software systems get developed — or not, as the case may be. I suspect that just from my family member’s collection of horror stories, I could outline pretty closely how Orca failed to be developed properly. Lack of testing (beta or otherwise) I’m sure figured prominently.

        That said, the vote has been gotten out for over 200 years now, and the techniques were perfected certainly 150+ years ago. I have to say again that I think blaming Orca failures is a distraction from recognizing that voters just weren’t buying what the Republicans had for sale. Work on fixing that, and there will be almost four years to beta test it.

        1. Indeed, it wasn’t tested much on real humans, a tremendous number of “out of band” things went wrong (e.g. sending lists out too late, not getting people their credentials to be at the polling locations, etc.), and there wasn’t “real world” testing, i.e. with the final setup they were going to have on election day. Like with too many staffers in the McCain campaign, there are a number of people who should never be trusted with this sort of responsibility again; as you indicate, any serious IT veteran knows what and what not to do (e.g. hiring Microsoft is pretty high on the what not to do list nowadays…).

          I have to say again that I think blaming Orca failures is a distraction from recognizing that voters just weren’t buying what the Republicans had for sale.

          Well, we can both be right. On the one hand, it’s possible a near total collapse, 2 elections running, of the GOP’s GOTV effort made a real difference in outcomes (e.g. in 2010 the Senate races in Colorado and Washington, where the governor’s association didn’t do anything), especially since the Democrats’ GOTV function ran very well (although Obama being on the ticket seems to be an important part of that, i.e. volunteers). On the other, it shouldn’t have been close.

          Or so those of us who hold out hope for the Republic tend to think; the “47%” comment does directly relate to the ultimate historical fate of republics when the people lose their morals and vote themselves the public fisc.

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