A Lesson in Leveraging Technology from a Surprising Source: Stealth Data Analysis Operation Keyed Trump Election Shocker

Data analysis made the difference.
Data analysis made the difference.

If you don’t want to be thinking about the election any more, we’re right there with you. But this story is as illuminating as it is surprising.   In the months since Data Center Spotlight has been in operation we’ve discussed many times how technology can be used to gain a significant advantage.  Having the proper infrastructure that supports uptime, performance, scalability and flexibility can provide the edge that enables a scrappy startup to dominate a slower moving organization before the lumbering opponent even knows what hit them.

We didn’t expect to be holding up the Donald Trump campaign as an example of such a lean, tech-savvy organization. In fact the Trump campaign had a highly sophisticated 100-person data analysis operation running outside of San Antonio.  A Forbes article on Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner details how cutting edge the Trump campaign’s operation was against the overconfident Hillary Clinton campaign.  The article is lengthy; the upper half of page 2 is where the data operation is detailed.

While the media assumed that Trump’s over-reliance on large rallies and a lack of interest in the data driven “ground game” would doom his campaign, the exact opposite was happening. Forbes reports “Kushner’s lack of political experience became an advantage. Unschooled in traditional campaigning, he was able to look at the business of politics the way so many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have sized up other bloated industries.”

The data advantage enjoyed by the Trump campaign runs completely counter to the widely-held assumption that the Trump campaign was being outflanked from a technology perspective. In an October 12 Vox.com article , Rasumus Kleis Nielson, the director of research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the author of Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns parroted that conventional wisdom.

“One thing that is a little bit overlooked is the extent to which building a good ground game relies on years of investment, in staff but also in technology: building voter databases and interfaces, and making them useful in the field. It’s just clear not only that the Democratic Party was ahead of the Republican Party in 2012 but also that the ability of the Republican Party to narrow that gap or to overcome that gap has been significantly undermined by the fact that the party nominee has not prioritized investing and catching up here.”

Mr. Nielson perfectly encapsulated the conventional wisdom, and there was no reason to think he was wrong. In fact, we had conversations with a technology provider that was serving the Trump campaign and was of the opinion that when it comes to technology operations, Trump’s organization was the least sophisticated campaign they’d ever worked with.

In nearly every industry there’s a smart upstart taking market share from a “fat & happy” legacy organization. While the fact that the Clinton organization was asleep at the switch and taking part of their “market share” for granted (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania) is a given. But there was no hint that the Trump campaign was using such strategic precision until now, two weeks after the election. It’s how businesses are winning right now, and apparently how the election was won as well.