More on the Sanders-Clinton data kerfuffle; questioning big data in politics; and more.
System reboot: The first Democratic presidential primary data war ended quickly, with the Democratic National Party officials restoring access to the national voter file to the Bernie Sanders campaign Saturday morning, and Sanders apologizing personally to Hillary Clinton at the start of Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate. But as Bloomberg Politics’ Michael Bender, Jennifer Epstein and Andrew Harris report, “the grudging settlement of the dispute came after a day of recriminations.” That included the Sanders campaign suing the DNC in federal court, and the Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook charging that their “data was stolen.”
Indeed, it remains unclear whether the Sanders team actually took advantage of the temporary failure of NGP-VAN’s firewall to access actual lists of voters that the Clinton campaign had identified, or just summaries of those lists. As Pat Reynard writes for the Iowa Starting Line blog, the search logs made available by NGP-VAN show that Josh Uretsky, the fired Sanders data director, ran “multiple searches for 40 minutes of Clinton turnout and persuasion scores in key early states” which he calls “an obvious attempt to glean valuable data from your rival.” He adds, “Running lists of turnout scores can tell you how many people the Clinton campaign believes will turn out to caucus. Querying their persuasion scores can get you a rough estimate of how many supporters they think they have in a state.”
Here’s DNC CEO Amy Dacey’s careful recounting of the steps the committee took as the news of the data breach spread.
Politico’s Nancy Scola explains the history of NGP-VAN and why nearly every Democratic campaign uses it.
The Sanders campaign has suspended two additional staffers involved in accessing the Clinton campaign’s data, Fredrik Schouten reports for USA Today.
The Clinton campaign is still highly vexed over the possibility that Sanders’ team got an unfair advantage from the data breach, as Clinton pollster Joel Benenson told Glenn Thrush and Annie Karnie of Politico. “I don’t think any of us will know until this audit is completed how serious this all is,” Benenson said. “All of [the data] is extremely valuable, it is work produced by tens of thousands of volunteers. … it is part of a roadmap to how we are running and strategizing in our campaign and how we get to the totals we need to win in Iowa and New Hampshire, especially,”
Top Democratic campaign veterans had lots to say about the controversy, though some of them were hardly objective observers. For example, former Obama 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird of 270 Strategies tweeted “They stole millions of dollars of research. This isn’t a small thing.”
Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s 2012 campaign, tweeted, “Sanders camp reaction is silly. Fess up, apologize, and move on. Rule breakers aren’t victims. (Bird and Messina both worked for the Ready for Hillary Super PAC.)
Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, now advising Uber, tweeted, “Think if one company accessed and stole another’s customer data. This is no small thing. Sanders camp should be careful playing the victim.” (Plouffe endorsed Clinton in October.)
Taking everything down a notch, Brigade VP Adam Conner (and a longtime Personal Democracy Media friend) writes a tongue-in-cheek version of “All the President’s Data.” Best line comes from Carl Bernstein: “So what exactly got stolen again? Some kind of files? How much paper are we talking here? Boxes? Enough to fill the van?”
While the data war dies down, journalists and editorial writers looking for a larger lesson in what seems to be the ultimate inside baseball story might ponder this question: How do national voter files filled with fine-grained data points on the political preferences of hundreds of millions of voters, combined with sophisticated data analytics, change politics? Add in the psychographic modeling and behavioral targeting reportedly being perfected by Ted Cruz’s campaign, and what role is left for ordinary citizens?
Political technologist Michael Marinaccio raises a bunch of related questions about whether big data in politics is going to far, giving this as one example of what’s now possible: “I sat in a recent meeting where we were discussing potential messages to use and were planning to segment two different audiences and send them similar, but opposing messages. (Newsflash: it is insanely normal these days to send your pro-life segment a “Yes, Pro-life!” message while sending your pro-choice crowd a “Yes, Women’s health!” one.)”
Why you have to read the small print: If you ever bought anything from the Delaware Crossing online Americana store, you may not realize it but you were shopping from the National Republican Campaign Committee, which now has your data, as Theodoric Meyer reports for Politico.
This is civic tech: Data scientist Dave Goldsmith shows how to use open data to reduce cycling deaths in Los Angeles.
Trump watch: If the short-fingered vulgarian wins the Republican presidential nomination, GOP stalwarts would likely rally behind a more establishment candidate running as an independent, longtime political observer Jeff Greenfield writes for Politico.