As Hurricane Isaac skirted and delayed the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week, one can’t help but to reflect on the Perfect Storm of conditions developing to make Campaign 2012 a watershed year for changes in campaign tactics. Word Reference defines a watershed year as “an event or period marking a turning point in a state of affairs.”  This election may very well come down to who leverages big data better.  So far, President Obama has a five year head start and is the clear frontrunner when it comes to leveraging data, data mining, and social media to achieve very real results.  To date, the Republican Party lags the Democratic Party considerably in its use of Big Data and Social Media. However, the digital divide could level the playing field between the parties as low income households (traditionally Democratic) are statistically lesslikely to be digitally engaged. This divide could allow Mitt Romney the chance to quickly make significant inroads against President Obama’s head start.  This will be a year of discovery in exploring how quickly things can change in the new world of social communication.  In a world where information is spread exponentially through sharing, something seemingly as small as being first out of the gate with the National Convention could have a major impact.

Mitt Romney is just now beginning to consider building an analytics team and infrastructure.  While a campaign official stated that they wanted to wait until Romney officially received the nomination, on Friday, A Huffington Post AP report “Mitt Romney Uses Secretive Data Mining To Identify Wealthy Donors,” said Romney’s data mining activities started as early as June.  The article goes on to say that Romney is the first campaign to use extensive big data and analytics.

The irony of this article is that, while it presents political data mining as some evil and subversive practice that Mitt Romney is recklessly conducting, volumes have been written about President Obama’s effective use of data, data mining, and social media for fundraising and to get out the vote.  In November 2011, I submitted an application for a job posting that was published on every major job site for Obama 2012 Campaign recruiting Predictive Modelers and other assorted data mining professionals.  The posting was looking for applicants with very advanced statistical and data mining training and skills.  While I am as independent as one can be, I was intrigued by the thought of applying my analytical skills to a campaign effort.  While I did not receive a call for an interview, I did get on the Obama campaign e-mail list.  It was one of the most sophisticated e-mail campaigns I have seen from any entity and easily rivaled any big business e-mail programs.  These e-mails attempted to make a very personal connection with me and my wallet by appealing to me as if I were a personal friend of Barack and Michelle, and we hung out nearly every weekend on the lawn of the Rose Garden or at a Texas Bar-B-Que.  

The first campaign uses of data mining and social media were in 2004 with Howard Dean’s campaign.  It is amazing the difference 8 years can bring.  As of today, not only does Barack Obama lead the social media stats by an overwhelming margin that is likely to grow exponentially between now and November, Michelle Obama also outpaces Mitt Romney on social media stats even though she sparked controversy last year when she said that she doesn’t allow her daughters to have Facebook profiles.   

    •    Barack Obama’s Tweet Stats (8/29/2012 8:11 PM)
    •    5,603 Tweets
    •    673,621 Following

    •    Michelle Obama’s Tweet Stats (8/29/2012 8:13 PM)
    •    408 Tweets
    •    7 Following

    •    Mitt Romney’s Tweet Stats (8/29/2012 8:15 PM)
    •    1,096 Tweets
    •    269 Following

    •    Barack Obama Facebook stats (8/29/2012 8:21 PM)
    •    1,709,237 talking about this

    •    Michelle Obama Facebook stats (8/29/2012 8:24 PM)
    •    684,203 talking about this

    •    Mitt Romney Facebook stats (8/29/2012 8:19 PM)
    •    2,088,722 talking about this
    •    75 were here

President Obama even understands social media well enough to hit the lesser players as well.  On Wednesday, President Obama became the first president to answer questions on Reddit.  But, don’t write off the Romney team just yet.  Zac Moffatt, the head of digital for the Romney campaign has it right when he says that user engagement is more important than raw counts.  Sharing is the new metric to benchmark and Romney has the advantage at the moment, spurred on by the added publicity of the convention.  

The Republican Party has dubbed the 2012 Republican convention as the Convention Without Walls. In the past, nearly every aspect of information emerging from the convention floor has been meticulously planned and orchestrated.  In 2012, pictures and videos are being broadcast from anyone attending; some of those will go viral.  Social sharing will determine the most important convention speeches instead of the political talking heads.  Condoleezza Rice hit a home run last night with both the press buzzing and the social sites trending even before she closed her very eloquent speech with which she skipped partisan speak in favor of the high road of what our country stands for and what it means to be an American.

Between data mining for voters and campaign finance, the rapidly changing and unpredictable influence of social media, and the big data tools to capture and leverage all of that influencer, voter and donor behavior, 2012 is destined to a watershed year for presidential politics with the Perfect Storm of Big Data convergence.  Perhaps by 2016, the fallout of The Perfect Storm will be the emergence of new parties through the strategic and cost effective use of big data and social media….time will tell.  

Bieber 2016 anyone?  
    •    Justin Bieber’s Tweet Stats (8/30/2012 12:17 AM)
    •    17,931 Tweets
    •    123,047 Following
 (I know....35 years old...Constitutional Amendment...yada yada yada)