What Happened Politically In 2016?

MediaPost had its own political postmortem yesterday in Washington, D.C., bringing together top strategists and vendors from both sides of the aisle to discuss what worked and what didn’t in the 2016 campaign season.

Panels covered topics ranging from questions surrounding the misguided focus on data and analytics, to the emergence of earned media as a major pillar in political media strategies.

“We over-learned what worked in 2012,” explained Jen O’Malley Dillon, partner at Precision Strategies, and general election strategist and senior advisor to the DNC in 2016. “We didn’t fully understand the conversation going on in many communities, despite having troves of data points on those voters.”

Dillon described a fatal disconnect between the data teams and what was happening in the field. “The data people were speaking Greek, and the field organizers were speaking French.”



Many have suggested a “failure” of data in 2016. Trump himself, before investing heavily in a data operation, continually blasted data strategy as a waste of time and money. (At the same time, the RNC took over for him on that front.)

It is not that data failed in 2016. Rather, many, including the Hillary Clinton campaign, relied too heavily on the analytics side of the equation, rather than understanding the vast anti-Washington sentiment on the ground. In many ways, it played the central role in electing Donald Trump.

As for the Trump campaign, Facebook was central to their success.

“Facebook was directly appropriate for our operation,” said Gerrit Lansing, chief digital officer at the RNC. On average, the RNC would upload 40,000 to 60,000 ad variations on the platform, per day.

Pairing a deeply sophisticated Facebook campaign with a let-it-ride attitude that highlighted Trump’s "authenticity," proved a smart alliance in 2016. Trump’s earned media, considerably larger than any other candidate, propelled him through the primaries, appealing to staunch Republican voters disaffected by the federal government.

Facebook’s unrivaled reach and targeting capabilities bolstered GOP turnout and allowed a largely unsophisticated and nimble campaign to up fund raising and voter turnout in the last few months of the election.

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