Politics

Romney digital director pushes back against critics of data and IT failure

Josh Peterson Tech Editor

Zac Moffatt, the Romney’s campaign’s digital director, is pushing back on that accusations that the Boston-based operation failed to properly use social media and collect information on voters.

“I can’t just sit by and let people say that Republicans gave up on data.”

“This isn’t a zero sum game,” he told The Daily Caller. “One side doesn’t have 100 percent of the good ideas, and one side doesn’t have 100 percent of the bad ideas.”

The much-vaunted Obama campaign data collection operation, which allowed Democratic strategists to carefully target and reach voters in its get out the vote operation, has been praised by political observers for its sophistication and effectiveness. A similar Republican effort, meanwhile, has been heavily criticized.

Many younger Republican operatives have vented their frustration to the media in the days following last week’s election. They say that Boston failed to learn many lessons from the 2008 presidential election, including the importance of social media. Some Republicans are saying this ineffective digital operation ultimately cost the campaign thousands of votes in the final hours of Election Day.

Even visible elements of the Romney campaign’s flawed use of consultant-designed technology were harshly criticized by campaign volunteers, in particular the misspelling of “America” on the Romney campaign’s iPhone app.

Project ORCA, the Romney campaign’s digital get out the vote strategy, which hinged largely on the use of smart-phones and tablets, has been roundly criticized for its technical and usability failures.

Some called the operation a “consultant con job”, and specifically celled out the Republican-contracted social media companies Targeted Victory, FLS Connect and The Stevens and Schriefer Group for the failure. Even Moffatt himself caught flack from operatives within the campaign.

Moffatt pushed back against notions that Republicans had failed to use their data correctly, and were once again behind the technological curve.

“We had five integrated databases with eight terabytes of data on 191 million people. That’s what big data is,” said Moffatt.

“We had strategy team members, we had digital team members. There are people whose entire jobs when they woke up in the morning was to understand data,” he said.

“Data means a lot of different things. There’s data for targeting for turnout, there’s data for how you’re going to segment your audience based on fundraising, list building, persuasion, mobilization. We were crunching numbers with the team all of the time,” he said.

“In many ways, the fact that we in six months were able to almost catch parity with the Obama campaign online, I think that’s actually a testament to how successful we were,” he said, remarking that the Obama campaign had four years to prepare.

“We’re not sitting here telling you that the Obama campaign did not have a good digital program,” he said. “They are trying to do that so they can keep the Democrats feeling like they have a secret weapon going forward, and that’s not the case.”

Moffatt’s more optimistic perspective allayed his frustrations towards what he felt were uninformed criticisms from people from outside of the campaign. However, he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory or the campaign itself.

Another source in the campaign told The Daily Caller that Project ORCA was not part of the digital strategy, and that it came out of the political department.

“I understand that, being on the side that came up short, people will second guess me,” said Moffatt.

“That is part of my job, that is my responsibility, to take that responsibility,” he said. “I was the digital director. But we’re not going to say as a party that we’ve not chosen to embrace 2012. That is a crazy statement.”

“We are very proud of what we accomplished, ” said Moffatt, “and for Republicans and conservatives to think that there is not an infrastructure for data going forward, that there is not a culture of individuals in the campaign who think of nothing but that, is crazy.”

He then posed a hypothetical question: “If we had won, what article would you be writing right now?”

“It’d be about how we harnessed online advertising, turned out our votes, how we engaged online at a higher rate than the Obama campaign, how we had a high percentage of people engaged throughout the process, how in six months we built an operation to rival the most sophisticated digital operation in the history of the country,” said Moffatt.

Follow Josh on Twitter