Title Data tools of Obama veterans aiding Trump campaign - POLITICO
Publication Date 2016-07-20
Text Data tools that once helped Obama have fallen into the hands of the Trump campaign. | Getty Data tools of Obama veterans aiding Trump campaign
Donald Trump’s campaign has driven key decisions by using advanced data tools developed by veterans of President Barack Obama’s first White House run, says a former Trump campaign staffer — a revelation that surprised and angered liberal campaign veterans.
Matt Braynard, the Trump campaign’s data lead for five months of the primary season, disclosed the use of the technology on Tuesday during a POLITICO discussion at the Republican National Convention. He said his team had, through a third-party vendor, tapped voter models created by HaystaqDNA, a firm founded by the directors of data targeting and data analytics for Barack Obama’s groundbreaking 2008 White House bid.
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The data models are designed to predict to a high level of accuracy how Americans will vote based on mixing and matching a wide variety of characteristics — from their support for U.S. humanitarian intervention abroad to their thinking on ride-on-demand services like Lyft and Uber.
“The Obama analytics operation in 2008 and 2012 went out to start a firm called HaystaqDNA — very successful,” Braynard said. “Their data drove almost every decision for us in terms of who got mail, whose door got knocked on, who got volunteer phone calls [or] paid phone calls, email, all of that."
Ken Strasma, HaystaqDNA’s co-founder and CEO, acknowledged that his firm sold its data models to L2, the nonpartisan Washington state-based voter data vendor used by the Trump campaign.
But Strasma disputed Braynard’s contention that the Trump campaign had gotten “complete access” to the data models or that it was done "without their" — that is, HaystaqDNA's — "knowledge."
“Once we provide that to L2, they are free to sell that to whoever they choose,” said Strasma. On the Trump campaign's use of those models, he added: "It wouldn't have been our first choice."
HaystaqDNA is seen by many in the field as a progressive firm. It advertises itself as having “pioneered the predictive analytics that helped the Obama campaign make history in 2008.”
Word that the firm's technology had fallen into the hands of Trump is sparking a sharp reaction from some who work in progressive digital politics.
“Next year @Netroots_Nation should ban @L2political and @HaystaqDNA. Folks who empower racism and bigotry are not in our tent," tweeted Melissa Byrne, a member of Bernie Sanders' digital organizing staff.
Braynard says he left the Trump campaign over a conflict with its previous leadership. The Trump campaign couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Strasma stressed that the models sold through L2 are pre-packaged products, not the sort of ultra-customized work or consulting services the company offers to progressive candidates such as Sanders, with whom it worked during the Democratic primaries.
Today, "our strategic advice and our hearts are with the Clinton campaign," said Strasma. "But with our more commoditized, generic models, we don't control who's able to buy them."
Strasma said his company had made the decision to offer its products to L2 without a restriction that would have limited their use to customers on the left in part because they intended the lower-cost tools to be used on small-scale issue work — such as a local environmental action — that can often target supporters on both sides of the political aisle.
He said he was surprised to hear that a high-stakes presidential campaign, like Trump's, would opt to use his firm's off-the-shelf tools.
The Trump campaign, however, has a pattern of using consumer-grade technology. It has powered its website and online organizing efforts using NationBuilder, an online content management system that has been criticized for being available to all comers despite the progressive roots of its leadership staff.
At the panel, Braynard explained that the Trump campaign used HaystaqDNA's data tools to pinpoint a specific type of would-be supporter.
"These are people who are rich in the wisdom of the Old Testament," said Braynard. "They have a very un-nuanced view of the world and a very realistic view of the world and the threats the country faces, domestically and foreign.”
Paul Westcott, L2’s director of marketing and communications, said his company has been eager to advertise its relationship with HaystaqDNA.
“This isn’t ‘Obama data,’" said Westcott. “Our understanding is just that they’re very good at what they do, and we wanted to work with them." He added, "From the White House on down, if they care, they can see what we’re pushing. It’s not a secret.”