How Technology Won the Presidency, Part II

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I explained yesterday how the Obama campaign utilized data integration techniques to realize a distinct advantage in targeting voters. However, all that data wouldn’t have meant anything without the technologies to process it and disseminate it. Obama’s team excelled here, too, utilizing the latest technological advances and trends to do on the cheap what, just a few years ago, would have cost beaucoup bucks.

Improvements in hardware helped the team keep costs low. Luke Peterson, data architect for Obama for America, told me his $700 laptop easily handled voter registration data, in fact better than did the $5,000 workstation he used in 2004. But improved processor performance was aided to some degree by improved software, too. Peterson said the campaign used inexpensive software options — PostgreSQL, MySQL, etc. — where possible, saving budget resources for expensive items like SPSS licenses and an ArcGIS server for the Chicago office.

Increased bandwidth also was a big boon. In 2000, Peterson explained, the Al Gore campaign was using an ISDN that was split 60 ways (I hope he was exaggerating). “If we needed to move a big data set, we’d set it up at 6:00 p.m. and go home … or go work at another computer,” he told me. “Maybe the next morning, if you’re lucky, it went through.” Compare that to the Obama campaign, which had “huge” pipes going into the Chicago office and invested heavily in Internet connections for field offices.

Advances in mobile technology made life easier, as well. By the end of the campaign, Peterson said, the team was running most of its voice communication on cell phones and even VoIP — the only copper going into the Chicago office was the DSL line. The team even built an iPhone app designed to help canvassers do their jobs.

Pretty interesting stuff, both hardware and software. If this keeps up, I might even learn how to run for Animal Control Officer. 🙂

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