Following the success of the 2008 Obama campaign, both academic study and journalistic inquiry has devoted serious attention to the rise of digital communication within electoral campaigns. Increasingly, the use of analytics and data-driven strategy has been at the center of this interest. For example, the Obama “cave” has been both mythologized and studied deeply. Sasha Issenberg’s Victory Lab bore into the 2008 Obama campaign’s use of data, and updated its account following the 2012 race. The 2012 presidential campaign brought analytics-based get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts on both sides of the aisle. The Republicans’ Orca and Democrats’ Narwhal projects garnered attention both before and after Election Day, with many news outlets attributing their makers’ respective success and failure to the tools themselves, and the larger project of successfully executing a modern, data-driven campaign. But analytics-based campaigning is not as original an invention as these stories of digital pioneers would lead us to believe. Long before the rise of digital strategy, campaigns routinely tested the materials they produced. Employing a variety of methods, from focus groups to surveys to dial tests, campaigns test what issues are salient to voters, poll public opinion on a variety of topics, and test the use of specific language or phrases; all before the “official” message(s) went out, in order to produce the most persuasive ones possible. But with the rise of digital messaging came the availability of analytic data that could capture what citizens did with messages and provide a measurement for success that could be assessed in real time.
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