Jim Messina: Old-Fashioned Door Knocking Got Better Data Than Online Data Mining

Obama campaign manager says the "best data" was collected by knocking on doors.

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President Obama urges supporters to knock on doors to get people out to vote during a campaign rally on Sept. 8, 2012, in Seminole, Fla.

With the success of Obama's data-driven presidential campaign, much of the most potent data is assumed to have been collected online. But Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Tuesday that the most effective data came from knocking on doors.

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"The best data for us was things we collected at the doors," Messina said in a Politico Playbook breakfast in Washington Tuesday. "The truth is the more we learned about data the more we learned how important the connection was... having a real connection with people."

The Obama campaign, said Messina, could rightly be called the most expensive door-knocking campaign in history.

In a memo released just before Election Day, the Obama campaign claimed it had contacted one out of every 2.5 people in the country since the 2008 election, much of it through personal phone calls or knocking on doors. That number is far and above the 50 million voter contacts the Romney campaign has cited.

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But an October New York Times story also reported the campaigns were gathering information on voters by tracking what they read and did online, a strategy that helped the campaigns better tailor their messages. It's a tactic corporations have been using to market products to consumers for years. "The campaigns have planted software known as cookies on voters' computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives," the Times reported.

Asked of the story Tuesday, Messina said "most of that stuff is just not true." He acknowledged that "there is some commercial [data mining] stuff that every campaign, including the Romney campaign, purchases," but said the strategy was "way overrated."

Knocking on a door, he maintained, garnered better data because it allowed neighborhood volunteer leaders to engage a voter in an in-person discussion about whether he or she was going to vote, who for, and why.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.