Saturday, November 10, 2012

Romney’s “get-out-the-vote” effort was a huge technological failure

Amid all the navel-gazing that Republicans have been doing about “messaging”, and the state of conservatism in America -- what “the voters have overwhelmingly told us” – there is another problem, much more simple, that may have been caused by a technological failure in Romney’s “get-out-the-vote” (GOTV) effort.

The story at the right is from a blog article by a writer named John Ekdahl who evidently provided a first-person account of having been one of the Romney volunteer brought in to use the system:

From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of "rah-rahs" and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.

Working primarily as a web developer, I had some serious questions. Things like "Has this been stress tested?", "Is there redundancy in place?" and "What steps have been taken to combat a coordinated DDOS attack or the like?", among others. These types of questions were brushed aside (truth be told, they never took one of my questions). They assured us that the system had been relentlessly tested and would be a tremendous success.

On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly. Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by "packet". Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what. Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf.

Ekdahl’s article continued to describe his frustrations with having to print out a document, unclear instructions on how to use the system, etc.

A CNET article described how the system was supposed to work:

Here's how Orca was supposed to work. On election day, the Romney campaign would deploy 34,000 volunteers with an Orca mobile web app in swing states to monitor turnout. In Boston Garden (now called TD Garden), 800 staffers would direct get-out-the-vote efforts in key precincts based on incoming data from volunteers on the ground and other sources.

The Romney campaign further described what Orca would do on Election Day:

The general idea is to conduct the world's largest exit poll. Through Project ORCA, at any given moment we will know the current ballot in every State, DMA & County.... For example: if we happen to be down in a state at lunch time, we can pinpoint exactly what is causing it. So, if we know we're going to win X state by 3 points, let's move our resources to Y state, county. In sum, Project ORCA will give us an enormous advantage by being able to know the current result of a state.

It is estimated that Project ORCA will decipher [how] 18 to 23 million people have voted by the time all voting has concluded. This massive "sample size" not only ensure the most accurate ballot projections ever, but it will also ensure hyper-accuracy of our supporter targeting as we work to turn them out to the polls.

"We are going to know more than the exit polls will be able tell us because we will know who voted in which precinct, and based on micro-targeting we know who that person likes"…

The Romney campaign described purpose of this the effort: “based on the data, the Romney campaign could take action to boost voter participation. "If we know that there is a low turnout in one of our target precincts, then we can lob phones into them...we'll send a robocall, or whatever, or our state offices will have volunteers to pick up the phone and say, 'Have you voted yet, go to precinct here.'"

This effort was supposed to be the technological foundation an advanced “get-out-the-vote” effort the campaign would be running in the swing states.

However, as it turns out, the data collection effort failed on a broad scale. “There were reports that the Orca app crashed on Election Day, and wasn't beta-tested sufficiently”, CNET said.

Politico said:

The collapse of the ORCA platform is all the more astonishing because of how aggressively the Romney campaign hyped it in advance of Nov. 6.

Centinello was quoted in The Huffington Post on Nov. 1 touting ORCA to volunteers in these grandiose terms: “There’s nothing that the Obama data team, there’s nothing that the Obama campaign, there’s nothing that President Obama himself can do to even come close to what we are putting together here.”

But for operatives within the Romney orbit, there was reason for skepticism even before the system went down on Election Day. Strategists in the states never got a chance to test-drive ORCA, which would have left them unfamiliar with the software on Tuesday even if it had worked.

Ekdahl concluded:

So, the end result was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc. We lost by fairly small margins in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. If this had worked could it have closed the gap? I sure hope not for my sanity's sake.

Another blogger described the Obama “get-out-the-vote” effort:

Obama entirely relied on his people. There’s a reason they call it “thick as thieves.” I know many are trying to harpoon that white whale that ended everything, but we have to ask a different question. If a winner lost, how did a loser win?

Votermom looks at the real ground game of the Obama campaign. The reason Chicago politics work is not only because of the illegality, it also relies on the tireless efforts of cronies to harass and threaten voters. Pat Caddell’s much envied Obama “data mining” operation seemed to consist of lists of registered voters who had not requested an absentee ballot or early voted. The campaign then paid people to call them daily until they either got a ballot or voted. I guess we know where that 7.8% unemployment figure came from.

Of course, the harassment was also personal and constant to certain persuadable groups like union workers and the inner cities. The county political identification maps are nice for a Republican to look at because they are vastly red. The downfall is that people in Democrat counties are packed like rats. A GOTV operation can hit thousands of people with just a busload of volunteers.

It seems to me that, at least at one level, the failure is pretty clear. The Romney campaign put a lot of its eggs into a technological basket that seems to have had a hole in it.


  1. Sorry, technical snafus like this played only a marginal role. Nate Silver's explanations of the election results seem more convincing. As a case in point, consider my own situation. I live in Armstrong County, PA. We had huge turnout, mostly Republican. Romney won my county by better than a 2/1 margin. This is not surprising, given the demographics here: almost exclusively white, Protestant and older. For several days beforehand we were treated to political advertising on nearly every race of any significance in PA, and the rate of pro-Republican advertising to pro-Democratic advertising was again at least 2/1. In addition, we received several robocalls a day day at our house for a week before election, every one of them pro-Romney.

    My wife is a registered Republican and I am a registered Democrat. I got zero, nada, nichts communication from ANY Democratic campaign. Even the third party organizations I receive regular communications from (Avaaz, Allout) sent only one "Get out and vote" email each.

    My wife and I both got emails from 3rd party conservative organizations urging us (I was a registered Republican until 2010) to vote Republican.

    Maybe ORCA was a technological failure. So what? Given the amount of $$ spent and the volume of advertising of all forms with which the Republican base (along with the rest of us) was bombarded, I find it hard to put too much stock in the impact of ORCA. I also find it hard to believe that exceptionally large number of likely Republican voters stayed home. They certainly did not stay home in my community.

    Obviously, a lot of other people who thought Obama was a better choice did not stay home either. Who would have thought? Republicans already knew or should have known that most of the country doesn't like the political ideas of Tea Partiers, Libertarians, and politically conservative Evangelicals. There was a lot of talk about how Obama supporters, frustrated by lingering economic problems, would either switch sides or -- more likely -- stay home. Basing your election strategy on the other guy's people staying away from the polls (hat tip to Mike Turzai for explaining the goal of the PA ID requirement) is piss poor politics, to say nothing of ethics.

    Romney lost because his base of support, AKA the Republican Party, is too small and thinks too much unlike the rest of the country for its candidate to appeal to the base and at the same time attract large numbers of unaffiliated or Democrat voters. Until that changes, Republicans should expect to keep losing.

    1. Dean -- George Bush received more votes in 2004 than Obama received this year. That alone shows that the Republicans "had the votes" to win this year. [People don't generally change their voting attitudes; some move, but not that many].

      In 2008 and 2012, McCain and Romney each received around 58 million votes. Republicans responded similarly to these two candidates.

      On the other hand, Bush received 62,028,285 votes in 2004; Obama received 61,814,180 this year. And Obama's total was down more than 4 million from the previous election (66,882,230).

      The Republican part is not "too small". As we've noted elsewhere here, Republican ideas are the right kinds of ideas. The analysis given at that blog post is still correct:
      The idea that most voters are now liberals is absurd. So is the idea that the Republican party needs some sort of major restructuring, such as abandoning its conservative stance on issues like abortion and marriage. While the changes needed amount to more than just tweaking around the edges, the Republican party remains a party that just got almost 50% in the popular vote for president, still controls the House of Representatives by a wide margin, still has a majority of governorships and state legislatures, etc.

    2. See this, for example:

  2. John,

    "People don't generally change their voting attitudes; some move, but not that many." Overgeneralization, especially when it comes to the electorate judging the performance of political parties from year to year. Yes, there are political principles to which some people become so committed that they are highly unlikely to change. On others there is more variability. "Having the votes" depends on whether voters happen to find a party's positions on the major issues of the time agreeable enough with their own and/or its candidate(s) compelling enough to get them to the polls. These things can change dramatically from year to year, depending on the issues.

    Apparently you are prepared to blame this loss on Romney. And I can think of some things he did that support that conclusion, such as his "47%" comment, his comments about the bailout of GM and Chrysler, his demonstrated inexperience at foreign policy, and his obvious flip-flops to make himself more appealing to more conservative Republicans.

    Trouble is, I'll just bet you find these the least disagreeable aspects of Romney's campaign. Please, tell me I'm wrong. Which of the 2012 Republican candidates do you think would have done better, and why?

    1. Romney had some bad luck. The 47% comment was taken out of context. The NY Times sunk his GM article with a bad headline. And the Orca thing didn't help.

      I think Santorum may have been able to run a 2004-type of campaign.

      But I also think Romney would have made a very good president, much better than Obama. I am fairly certain Obama will continue to run the ship aground, and if people did not see the destructive nature of his policies this time, they will come into even sharper relief next time.

  3. The 47% comment was NOT taken out of context. I listened to the entire recording. It was an indefensibly ridiculous comment.

    Santorum certainly could have run a 2004-style campaign ... and he would have lost too. Remember, I'm from Pennsylvania. You are too, right? Santorum is damaged goods around here. In fact, he personally intervened to get Armstrong County ripped out of the 12th congressional district and stuck in the 3rd congressional district. The resulting 12th congressional district is a gerrimandered monstrosity. The 3rd isn't much better. On that basis alone, I at least will never vote for Santorum for any office. I can guarantee you there are plenty of others like me in the eastern half of the existing 12 congressional district. If Santorum gets past the primaries again for any national or PA political office, we will be yelling about this like holy hell.

    I heard one pundit suggest that John Huntsman may have done better in the general election than Romney. Maybe. Besides Romney, I didn't see anybody on the Republican side that stood a snowball's chance in hell in a general election.

    I'll grant you that Romney could have been a good President, but only if he had stuck with the approach he took as Governor of Massachusetts. He maneuvered himself out of that option.

    Whose fault is this? The Republican base's. That's why I left the party. For eight years of Republican rule the country went crazy. A foolish tax cut, a foolish war, financial regulatory agencies asleep at the wheel (I work for a bank, and our bank almost went under because the irresponsible, unregulated risk-taking of the Wall Street banks sank the economy, undercut the businesses to which we had made commercial loans, and left us exposed to huge loan losses), all of which led to a huge increase in the federal deficit.

    Obama gets elected President and all of a sudden Tea Partiers get religion about the federal debt. Oh really? Been there, done that. In 1992. Remember Ross Perot? I actually voted for the guy. At least Clinton got the memo and eliminated federal budget deficits.

    Republicans broke that bank and nearly broke mine. And then they have the unmitigated gall to attack Obama because he hasn't reduced the deficit fast enough for them. WTF were they doing 2000-2008?

    As for President Obama, I have my worries too, and for good reason. I can point to several major situations in which he caved to Republican pressure and it didn't solve anything, except to provide ammunition for both sides in the election. Given your political views, I expect you to be pessimistic. I'm hoping he gets some spine and starts pushing back harder against Republicans on tax/spending, infrastructure rebuilding, energy policy and environmental issues. If he does, you'll be very unhappy for awhile at least, I'm sure, but the country as a whole will be better off.

    1. Dean, here' the video:

      The question to him was,

      for the past three years, all everybody's been told is, "don't worry, we'll take care of you." How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections to convoke everybody, you've got to take care of yourself?

      No doubt, these folks have the "Obama Phone" lady and also the lady who, on Obama's election, "Now I don't have to pay my mortgage". Have you seen those videos? Check out the Obama Phone lady:

      Romney's response was:

      There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government … who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

      He is talking about here the 47% of voters who are in the Obama column, as the polls are showing at that point. This is 47% of the electorate. And he confirms he is talking about "the electorate who is not going to vote for me" in the next portion of this:

      I mean the president starts of with 48, 49, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax, 47% of Americans pay no income tax.

      On two fronts, this is true. 47% of Americans don't pay income tax, and of that 47%, largely, they are going vote for someone [remember the initial question] who is going to say he's going to take care of them through [debt-funded] government payments.

      What Romney goes on to say is that his job, as the candidate, is not to convince this 47% otherwise. That makes a tremendous amount of sense from an electoral perspective.

      He does say, too, he needs to "convince the five to ten percent in the center" of the electorate, "independents", etc. It is the electoral strategy. To win these people over to vote for him It is in no way "an indefensibly ridiculous comment". And if you think so, it simply shows that you do not know what it takes to run an election.

      What is it you think he was talking about that was so "indefensibly ridiculous"?

    2. I'll grant you that Romney could have been a good President, but only if he had stuck with the approach he took as Governor of Massachusetts. He maneuvered himself out of that option.

      He was dealing with two different electorates: the state of Massachusetts, and the entire US.

      Whose fault is this? The Republican base's. That's why I left the party. For eight years of Republican rule the country went crazy. A foolish tax cut, a foolish war, financial regulatory agencies asleep at the wheel (I work for a bank, and our bank almost went under because the irresponsible, unregulated risk-taking of the Wall Street banks sank the economy, undercut the businesses to which we had made commercial loans, and left us exposed to huge loan losses), all of which led to a huge increase in the federal deficit. Obama gets elected President and all of a sudden Tea Partiers get religion about the federal debt. … WTF were they doing 2000-2008?

      You are not talking to a George Bush fan. I was rather a fan of the 1994-1998 Republican congress that brought the deficit down to zero. Bush promised to govern the same way [or so I thought], but he was a weak-minded fool at several levels.

      I know people who were Ron Paul voters, who, when Romney got the nomination, became Obama voters. Talk about flip-flopping economically. Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot.

      You rightly have worries about Obama. Though it doesn't seem as if you're worrying about the right things.

      Given your political views, I expect you to be pessimistic.

      I am terribly optimistic for the future. Though I expect the next four years to be difficult, I expect that more people will see what's happening as Obama digs himself into further debt. Just let China start to hint that they're going to want some concessions if they're to keep buying US treasury debt.

    3. John,

      That clip of Romney's talk is just a little excerpt. But even that clip has enough in it. So, the 47% percent of Americans who pay no income taxes lack a sense of personal responsibility and will vote for anybody who promises them a continued free lunch? I happen to live with one of those freeloaders. My mother-in-law hasn't paid income taxes in years. Her husband didn't either after retirement, until he died in 2008. He was a WWII vet, 3 times a POW in Germany. He also served as a military policeman in Korea. When he came home from WWII he could have applied for full disability, but he was too ashamed to do it. Instead, he worked for the next 40 and some-odd years, most of it for the Federal government, and gave away tons of money. His widow now lives on a small government pension and social security. Physically, she is one tough cookie. And she, like most of the other 47%'ers who live around here, voted for Romney. So much for his theory about the 47%. That means a large percentage of people who voted for Obama -- like me -- pay income taxes. I guess we're supposed to resent the fact that our taxes are supporting people like my mother-in-law and try to cut them off?

      She would agree with you about others in the "47%." So would I. There are takers in all walks of life. Some of them aren't too smart and end up poor even with help. Others are very clever and find ways to hide their thievery by various forms of "gainful employment," at least for awhile. How are Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski better than the Phone Lady? She votes for Obama to protect her benefits and they vote for the likes of Romney to keep government eyes away from their shenanigans. What's the difference?

      There are many, many people in Romney's so-called 47% who are no more irresponsible than you or I. Romney should have known this and never let that comment escape from his mouth.

      I'm glad we agree about the Bush years. Just don't forget that Bush had a helpful Congress. Why were they so willing to bust the budget then? Why did they permit so much of the spending on the Iraq War go "off-budget?" And why didn't the Tea Party movement get off the ground until faced with an Obama Presidency?

    4. And don't forget the Republican mantra from Romney to Ryan to American Crossroads to Americans for Prosperity to the National Republican Congressional Committee: The Democrats are going to cut YOUR Social Security, seniors. We won't (cut to Tom Smith hugging his aged mother). So, its OK for Republicans to appeal to their portion of the 47%, but a sign of moral degeneracy for Democrats to do the same?

      "He does say, too, he needs to 'convince the five to ten percent in the center' of the electorate, 'independents', etc. It is the electoral strategy. To win these people over to vote for him It is in no way 'an indefensibly ridiculous comment'. And if you think so, it simply shows that you do not know what it takes to run an election."

      I wasn't talking about that part of his comments, so you can store your judgments about my political savvy. But since you bring up the independents, let's do the rest of the math. If 47% percent of the electorate is a lock for Obama because they pay no income taxes and 5%-10% is politically independent and in play, I guess the remaining 48-53% is a lock for Romney. That leaves people like me completely out of his calculations. By 2010 I was a lock for the Democrats for the foreseeable future. I know plenty of people who fit that category, all of whom pay income taxes. Some are relatively high earners and pay substantial income taxes. Romney's characterization of the electorate is insulting. But the really bad part is its inaccuracy. And I think far too many Republicans share this benighted view of the country.

    5. Dean -- Romney's 47% didn't include folks like your mother in law. My wife, too, is a veteran, and has been receiving Social Security disability checks in the wake of a pretty severe illness. But she is constantly talking about going back to work, too, and I believe she will be able to do it at some point. Merely getting that kind of help is not what Romney is talking about.

      That 47% does not refer to "all people who receive government payments". It refers to that portion of the electorate who will never not vote for the Democratic candidate. You are allowing a comment taken out of context to rule your world.

      He is definitely talking about the "others" as you say, in that 47%. It includes those folks who take the full two years-worth of unemployment compensation, because they can. And then when they get to the end of that, they'll take the food stamps, and allow themselves to become a part of a permanently-dependent-on-government underclass, and any hint that some of those benefits might contract is a threat to their existence. Romney's characterization of the electorate is not "insulting". It is an accurate characterization. And you know what? Real life is going to bite them anyway:

      Especially as Obama-induced tax increases topple the economy into another recession and make it even more difficult for the government to be generous with those types of payments.

      You mention Ken Lay. The fact that some people abuse the system doesn't mean that the system is bad. There are lots more in the corporate world who work hard and play by the rules and yes, they are rewarded for those activities. I consider that to be a good thing.

      As for the Pauline Kael article, what the electorate map shows is that the presuppositions of Pauline Kael's insular world have been allowed to expand and envelope a large portion of the culture in the Northeast and the west coast. The drudge/fox/talk group are the ones with the grip on reality. The problem is, Kael world has taken over far more of the culture than they have been prepared to realize.

      I don't have time to get any further into this right now. But I hope you'll stick around and consider some of the other things that get said here.

  4. John,

    One last quick note. You might find this article worth a read.