Elections

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    Shout out to our sister company, SmithJohnson Research on a great election night in California!

Shout out to our sister company, SmithJohnson Research on a great election night in California!

Congratulations to Our Legislative Target Winners
Young Kim, Janet Nguyen, Marc Steinorth, Tom Lackey
(Sacramento) – “We were very proud to be part of turning back the 2/3rds Democrat majority in both houses of the legislature,” said Dr. Val Smith, Director of Research with SmithJohnson Research (SJR). SJR Was selected to by the Assembly Caucus to poll in four of their key Assembly targets and also for the top Senate target, Janet Nguyen. “In two of the four Assembly races, we were privileged to work for candidates who defeated incumbents, which is always an exciting challenge,” he added. Both Republican caucuses also adopted Porpoise Analytics, a new dynamic modelling tool developed by SmithJohnson Research which helped the candidates fine-tune their targeting and messaging. SJR also provided polling services for a variety of incumbent candidates, independent expenditure committees, and trade associations.

Robo-Polls: Wave Of The Future?

They’re fast, they’re cheap, and you can easily get larger sample sizes, but are they worth it? There is controversy over the accuracy of automated polls, also known as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) polls. Traditional pollsters are still skeptical, while IVR proponents claim they’re the wave of the future. More unsettling, however, is new research that suggests some IVR polls may have been biased to conform to traditional polls.

Whether or not those concerns are accurate, there are certainly advantages that come with IVR polls. In addition to being cost-effective, they ensure that questions are asked the same way every time. You also don’t have to worry about issues with accents from the interviewers. And since there isn’t a real person talking, the respondents may feel less pressure and express their honest opinions.

A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that telephone polls “did very well in forecasting the outcome of the election in 2008.” The American Association for Public Opinion Research produced a paper in 2009 on presidential primary polling which concluded that the use of IVR polls “made no difference to the accuracy of estimates.”

Of course, automated polls aren’t without their own drawbacks. The main problem is that auto-dialed calls have a bad reputation, largely due to the annoying commercial calls that people get in the evening. Respondents may hang up before even listening to the purpose of the call. Questions have to be short and you can only ask so many questions to retain respondent interest.

Perhaps, a greater cause for concern was raised by Dr. Joshua Clinton and Steve Rodgers, political scientists at Vanderbilt and Princeton, respectively, who published a paper in 2013 which suggested that IVR polls from the 2012 GOP primary […]

Zombies in San Diego Mayoral Bid

White House correspondent John Gizzi weighs in on San Diego Zombie ad:

Democrat David Alvarez unexpectedly placed second in Tuesday’s mayoral contest, knocking out a candidate long considered a cinch to be one of the top vote-getters, and will join Republican Kevin Faulconer in a run-off early next year.

Although many point to Alvarez’s support from key union leaders for his advancing past former state legislator Nathan Fletcher, who had placed second in nearly every poll, other observers in San Diego credit anti-Fletcher TV spots that featured zombies.

That’s right. Zombies.

The mindless creatures featured in horror productions, from George Romero’s 1968 cult classic “Night of the Living Dead” to the current hit AMC TV series “Walking Dead,” were unleashed in independent commercials underscoring Fletcher’s change of positions as he continually changed party affiliations, switching in earlier races from Republican to independent to Democrat.

“Nathan Fletcher courted the tea party with anti-immigrant rhetoric, but then he switched his principles when he ran for mayor,” said the narration to the ad, as a hoard of zombies lumber Frankenstein-style at dusk.

“He bashed labor unions and supported pension reform, but then he switched his principles again. Now he’s against pension reform and supports spending billions – but wait! He’s switching again!”

Finally, an exasperated zombie declares: “This guy keeps switching his principles – on every issue! I can’t keep mindlessly following Nathan Fletcher! And I’m mindless!”

The commercials were paid for by an independent expenditure known as “Zombies for Responsible Government.” They began airing online on, appropriately, on Halloween.

“We only spent $1,800 on pre-roll ads on Youtube to launch it, but once Twitter lit it up, the paid media was practically irrelevant,” explained veteran California media maestro Wayne Johnson. “The real definition of virality […]

Campaign Tech Kerouac

It’s taken a day to decide if the venue for Campaign Tech West was tawdry, ineffable or inspired.  I’m leaning to ineffable.  Across the street from the Naked Lunch restaurant, near the triangle of Broadway, Columbus and Grant.  Nearby, what the Chinese call “Ahdalah Hong” the short walkway that formerly bore the name “Adler Place”.  In recent years, it has been dubbed “Kerouac Alley”, in honor of the beat denizen who frequented the City Lights Bookstore on the corner.

One wonders what Kerouac would have thought of the gathering of political techies on the street where he composed his “spontaneous prose.”  He thought editing robbed prose of being in the moment, and thus somehow dishonest.  Had he been around to witness the billions of “moments” enshrined in tweets and posts today, perhaps, he would have been less opposed to such dishonesty.

Kerouac’s spontaneity was arresting in his time, and not always appreciated (“That’s not writing, that’s typing,” said Capote).  Yet, Kerouac thought before he wrote, which immediately distinguishes him from our own often too-connected world.   I thought about his roman à clef style and tried to imagine Kerouac blogging.  I suppressed the impulse to raise that question among Tuesday’s gifted tech panelists, or when visiting Google and Facebook’s respective HQ’s on Monday.

It would have been hard to watch Kerouac die, 144 characters at a time. From Rome to Zen and back to Rome again.  From leftie beat poet to cantankerous conspiracy theorist, one suspects the journey would have been difficult to watch, if only in one’s newsfeed.   Spurning the “communists” who stole the beat’s movement, Kerouac would die surrounded by a stack of old National Review magazines.  Once visited by some young neo-Nazis, he ran them […]

Data Mining and The Princess Bride

Political consultants and the campaigns they work for are poised to spend millions in the coming cycle on data mining. For some, that’s going to be a great decision.  For others – unless they take the time to understand what data mining is and what it isn’t – they just may wake up with a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

Data mining has its roots in the pragmatic-oriented fields of business and computer science. Its main contribution has been the capability of using ever-expanding computing power to process large volumes of data and find important patterns and anomalies. Financial institutions have been able to improve their ability to detect fraud in credit card transactions using these techniques.

The idea is that with enough computing power, data, and variables thrown into a regression, eventually something “interesting” will emerge. This serendipitous approach is why many statisticians dismissed data mining as a forecasting tool early on, warning like those mutual fund notices that “past results are not necessarily an indication of future performance.”

The problem, of course, is that political strategists are far less interested in a history lesson than they are in a crystal ball that will predict the future.  As much as we may wish for data mining to be that crystal ball, that’s simply not what this tool is all about.

Statisticians are concerned with making inferences (generalizations) that can be used for making predictions. Professor David J. Hand, in his 2008 article for the International Journal of Forecasting, writes, “Forecasting is fundamentally an inferential problem. That is, it is not simply a question of summarizing data, but is rather a question of generalizing from the available data to new data — and in particular to new situations […]

Tectonic Shifts in the Digital World

When Millenial Media’s (MM – $6.54) acquisition of privately-held JumpTap is completed, they will become the biggest company no one has ever heard of – just behind Google and just ahead of iTunes.  I’m talking about the business side of the business, which is all about serving ads to mobile devices.  Google remains the undisputed king, but the space Millenial Media occupies is huge, and about to get a lot bigger.
That’s because Millenial Media has been building an ad platform aimed at the world of mobile apps, a patchwork community consisting of literally hundreds of thousands of individual app developers. What makes Millenial so important is that they already have signed deals to serve ads to more than 45,000 of these apps. With the addition of JumpTap, they’ll add a whole new layer of cross-screen technology that will pull  tablets, smartphones, laptops and PCs into the same ad buying matrix.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. 
Companies like Campaign Grid have great tools for cookie-targeting voters online (“cookies” are footprints we leave when we use browsers to visit sites), but despite their penetration through Facebook, LinkedIn and AT&T’s Mobile Network, for example, a huge majority of mobile device users (and that’s most people) are using apps on those devices, not browsers.  Cookie-tracking is great for targeting the web browsers.  For app users?  Not so much.
That explains the mad scramble among aggregators and cookie-trackers to constantly broaden the reach of their targeting.  Very smart move, but no one online ever arrives, the most you can say is that they’re headed in the right direction.  Take a look at a couple of the factoids that Millenial Media notes, in passing: 70% of the most active iPhone states lean […]

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    Ending the Turf War: Why Campaigns Need to Embrace Cross-Channel Integration.

Ending the Turf War: Why Campaigns Need to Embrace Cross-Channel Integration.

When the Obama campaign allocated tens of millions of dollars to online recruitment and advocacy, it took a very big risk.  That risk was not in committing such a large share of the campaign’s resources online, but rather in putting the online operation in a bubble, insulated from the traditional political strategists.  Obama won, so it would be easy to conclude that the bifurcated campaign worked, but the decision to create semi-independent silos of information and communication was, perhaps, the most dangerous decision of the campaign.
Why they chose to do it was obvious.  The 20-somethings in the digital shop would have been run over by the Old Guard strategists who talk about innovation and then spend the money on what they have used effectively in the past, the default spending categories of direct mail, radio and television. Obama may have won while breaking the old mold, but that doesn’t mean the “silo” approach to the turf wars over campaign spending should be a template for the future.  It shouldn’t.
The solution for political consultants, just starting out and at the most senior level, is to not only understand cross-channel integration, but to embrace it.  In retail marketing, that phrase refers to the concept that, no matter where a customer comes in contact with a brand, whether on a billboard, on television, in a magazine, an online store or a retail establishment, that customer must be spoken to with one “voice.”  There must be a continuity of message and experience.  It’s no less true for a campaign.  While we, of course, target different voter segments, there still needs to be an integrated approach to messaging, as well as messengers because every voter is getting information about […]