My appearance in 1996Wayne Stegall

Copyright © 2014 by Wayne Stegall
Created October 29, 2014.  See Document History at end for details.

Election Science

Engineering the outcome of an election

Is behavior predictable?  Perhaps, if you are either entirely a creature of instinct or one of principle.  Few people are so simple as these extremes, yet some would certainly try.  Imagine a day when the statistical methods of Behavioral Science could be used to manipulate an election to produce a predetermined outcome.  In such a system, statistical analysis of individuals' views on various issues and perhaps their strength of feeling about them would determine a public communication of party ideology only crafted for the greatest odds of gaining and holding power.  On an individual basis, polls and surveys would collect data on voters which would then be analyzed to determine what ploys would be necessary to get their vote.  Then when the day came to contact them again - whether by phone or mailing - Behavioral Science would secure their vote.  That day is here!  Consider the following revelations about the Democratic Party's use of these techniques to manipulate an election.

As chief scientist for President Obama’s reelection effort, Rayid Ghani helped revolutionize the use of data in politics. During the final 18 months of the campaign, he joined a sprawling team of data and software experts who sifted, collated, and combined dozens of pieces of information on each registered U.S. voter to discover patterns that let them target fund-raising appeals and ads.1

This technique did not find use in fund-raising alone, but in direct manipulation of voters as further stated in the same article.

But the campaign’s success in applying such methods on the fly to sway voters is now recognized as having been potentially decisive in the election’s outcome.1

The article continues to tell what sort of data was analyzed.

At Obama for America, Ghani helped build statistical models that assessed each voter along five axes: support for the president; susceptibility to being persuaded to support the president; willingness to donate money; willingness to volunteer; and likelihood of casting a vote. These models allowed the campaign to target door knocks, phone calls, TV spots, and online ads to where they were most likely to benefit Obama.1

The idea of individually targeted behavioral ploys suggests that different - and perhaps contradictory - things are being to played to each individual.  The following excerpt from another article suggests that ploys were devised that were able to secure the betrayal of Republican voters to their own party.  Mind bending!

The people who first developed the microtargeting models used in persuasion had assumed, like the rest of us, that voters in the center are the most up for grabs. But in 2006, EMILY’s List ran a series of persuasion experiments that raised doubts about this assumption. The Democratic women’s group sent out mailers on behalf of female gubernatorial candidates in Michigan and Washington, then polled across the entire universe of recipients to gauge the impact of the messages.

The voters who’d been assessed as sitting closest to the middle of the road barely budged. In fact, there was significantly more movement among those who were projected to be leaning toward the Republican candidate than among those whose mid-range scores situated them evenly between the two poles. “Campaigns love to find out what segments of the population are their targets,” Strauss told me last summer in an interview for my book The Victory Lab. But that alone, he went on, was insufficient. “Targeting is all about finding people whose behavior will change and changing that behavior.” And it turned out that the people who’d scored close to 50 on the zero-to-100 spectrum of support weren’t the people whose behavior was most likely to change. Whatever those support scores were measuring, it wasn’t exactly susceptibility to persuasion.2

In addition to scientists hired for this task, Google also may have helped Obama build his behavior programming machine.  When I heard that Obama was so pleased with Google's CEO that he wanted him on his cabinet, I thought it in return for censoring Obama adversaries.  However, the code to target Google advertisements to the specific interests of internet users based on cookies and search history is conveniently very similar to the sort of code necessary to individually target voters.

Although the Slate article represents Obama and the Democrats as merely better at voter manipulation than the Republicans, the various machine election activities seen in 2012 tell otherwise.  Remember these points that I made in an article after the election:3

The 2012 Presidential election showed many signs of a machine election.
  • The election carried throughout a comprehensive and ruthless propaganda campaign made successful by liberal media help.  The observation that the Democrats and their allies consistently told the same lies, in the same way, with largely the same words suggests the liberal line was deliberately planned and then carried out by all the participants.  The Republicans in contrast appeared to argue their point of view independently from zeal for the logic and validity of their beliefs.
  • If this observation passed the notice of some, the debates were a clear revelation.  Questions posed by Obama-friendly moderators were targeted to put their favorite in the best light and to draw the conservative debater into a calculated controversy.  The vice-presidential debate which was moderated by an ally of Obama whose wedding Obama had recently attended was appalling.  Biden calculated juvenile laughter to befuddle his opponent and the moderator joined his humor as the debate continued its one-sided course.  In the second presidential debate, the moderator contended against Romney on behalf of Obama in a clear display of partiality at one point even to asserting her own liberal lie.  I thought at that point that Romney would win the election on the basis of sportsmanship alone.  However, tyranny cannot rest.
  • Now if Obama was concerned that things were slipping, he could buy votes.  An executive grant of short term amnesty for illegals would buy him Latino votes.  And win them he did.
  • If these were not enough, election day itself produced credible reports of widespread voter fraud favoring Obama.4
Instead the Romney campaign is credited by Slate to have fumbled its opportunity to persuade voters because of improper targeting.  Instead, it is more astute to attribute the same observations to the simple fact that Romney thought he could win simply by the honest presentation of a more decent and logical ideology.  Consider that the following assessment cited in the Slate article shows Romney simply expounding his views rather than targeting the voter for manipulation.

In August, a Virginia playwright and newspaper editor named Dwayne Yancey was surprised to see a series of glossy direct-mail pieces from the Romney campaign arrive at his home outside Roanoke. The first two brochures had to do with coal mining, which struck Yancey as irrelevant to him or his family: They live four hours from the nearest mine, and coal production carries little of the romantic imagery for Yancey that have led Republicans to believe it was a potent issue in West Virginia and Kentucky.2

After Obama has deceived your vote, he intends to program your beliefs as well.  An article that I read some time ago said that Obama had hired a MIT graduate to study how to persuade the public to change their beliefs, presumably to conform to those like his.  Their degree in Behavioral Psychology or some related field would bring science to bear on this task.

All of this seems to me to be a racket creating a political machine, rather than a democracy representing the voters' interests.  If this is an exact science, it might end democracy altogether.  Just the data collected may be an unscrupulous violation of privacy.  What ever happened to the concept of  politicians just standing for the values they believe and leaving the voters to make an honest choice.

If you want to be your own person, you might consider the following actions.  Don't give the party pollsters your views and don't receive their manipulations when they call you back.  Perhaps too, you should hinder collection of personal data on the internet as well.

Current observations

  • Obama is pursuing Democratic Congressmen with campaign help that they do not want,  a move illogical unless he has some certainty of winning that they do not have.
  • Harry Reid is quoted as saying that he will not leave his leadership position regardless of the outcome of the election.
  • There are already reports that voting machines in some districts are converting votes for Republican candidates to benefit the Democratic candidates instead.  One such regularity was reported by a Republican congressman when he went to early voting in his state of Illinois.
Is it possible that this means that the Democrats are preparing some stunt just prior to the election?  Or are they overconfident in their ability to manipulate angry voters?  Lets watch and see.

Resist the machine!

1Ted Greenwald, "Data Won the U.S. Election. Now Can It Save the World?," May 29, 2013, MIT Technology Review,, link.
2Sasha Issenberg, "Obama Does It Better: When it comes to targeting and persuading voters, the Democrats have a bigger advantage over the GOP than either party has ever had in the modern campaign era,", link.
3See related article:   Executive Machine.
4Michael Snyder, "22 Signs That Voter Fraud Is Wildly Out Of Control And The Election Was A Sham," Market Daily News, November 13th, 2012, link.

Document History
October 29, 2014  Created.
October 29, 2014  Expanded the argument to add clarity.