Trump Camp Belittles Importance of Data, Again

Doesn't Help RNC's Goal to Overcome Disparity with Democrats

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Donald Trump Jr. walks on stage to deliver a speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.
Donald Trump Jr. walks on stage to deliver a speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Observers of current business trends would be hard-pressed to find many corporate executives who dismiss the value of data and analytics when it comes to running a successful venture. However, yet again, the campaign of Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed "most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far," has derided the use of data and analytics.

During last night's Republican National Convention, Donald Trump Jr. took the podium. There he rattled off a litany of things his father would accomplish if he wins the presidency, including passing a loophole-free tax code and repealing Obamacare:

"We're going to elect a president who will work with everyone to pass legislation that will make our country great again…. A president who has had real people's families and livelihoods dependent on his success and the success of his company for decades. A president who speaks his mind and not just when it behooves him to do so, who doesn't have to run a focus group or use data analytics to be able to form a simple opinion."

Relying on polls to dictate decisions typically is not considered good governance. However, while the proverbial finger-in-the-wind approach to campaigning and governing is often criticized, the fact that the Trump campaign has continued to imply that it does not need data and analytics -- cornerstones of nearly all other modern, sophisticated, large-scale political campaigns and many successful business operations -- is unique in the world of politics and the corporate world today.

In May, the then-presumptive nominee, who has linked his potential as commander-in-chief to his arguable business prowess -- dismissed the use of data by Barack Obama's presidential campaigns in an AP interview, stating, "I've always felt it was overrated .... Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me."

Instead, the Trump camp has relied on the real estate tycoon and reality TV showman's mass appeal as entertainer and spectacle, placing most of its campaign strategy on generating earned media coverage. Meanwhile, the campaign is spending relatively little on TV ads or the type of targeted tech-driven elements of campaigning necessary to persuade swing voters and get out the vote in November.

Another disregard for the value of data -- this time at its own national convention -- can't look good for the Republican National Committee. The party itself has taken great pains to try to convince observers that it has invested enough in resources and staff to improve its digital and data operations enough to compete with the Democrats, the party that steamed ahead on the data front thanks to tech and data innovations developed by President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

The RNC has indicated that it is ignoring the Trump camp's dismissive rhetoric regarding data and analytics and will continue bolstering its tech and data resources in the hopes of not only winning the presidency, but congressional and local races.

"After the loss in 2012, Chairman Priebus made the decision that we were going to make the changes necessary to ensure that our next Republican Presidential nominee and all Republicans running for office are in the best position to win the White House," RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

The party in November hired Darren Bolding, former chief technology officer of Scott Walker's short-lived presidential primary campaign, as RNC chief technology officer. He replaced previous CTO Azarias Reda, who left the organization after a year in the role to focus on his own firm, Republic Computer Science, which builds political campaign field software. Mr. Bolding had served as the RNC's director of DevOps, a software building role, before moving to the Walker campaign.

Andrew Brown, technology director at the Democratic National Committee, has been with the party since 2013.

In the RNC's 2013 Growth and Opportunity Project report, also known as its post-2012 "autopsy," the party stressed, "For the RNC to be successful at winning elections in 2013, 2014, and beyond, it must establish a clear and guiding purpose and a set of objectives that include not only winning, but also how we want to win -- the establishment of a new culture driven by data, technology, analytics, and personal contact."

Since 2012, the GOP says it has spent $100 million to improve its digital and data operations and staff. And, contrary to its reputation of having no data analytics operation in place, the Trump campaign has spent money -- albeit a limited amount -- on data management and in-house data staff. According to Ad Age analysis of Federal Election Commission filings from the campaign, around $96,000 went towards data management services in April and May, including to voter data firm L2. In addition, the campaign has paid in-house data staffer Witold Chrabaszcz thousands of dollars each month for his services. The most recent FEC filings show that the former RNC data engineer was paid $12,000 by the campaign in May.

Still, it is not known whether the data services the Trump campaign has used encompass voter data analytics for segmenting voter groups and informing media buys, important elements of recent presidential campaigns.

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