Since November, many observers have been questioning the relevance of tried-and-true campaign tactics. Consultant Mike Murphy went so far as to tweet about the death of data in politics. That obituary may be premature as President-elect Trump’s White House win was determined by a small number of voters in critical counties.
In Florida, Pinellas County played a key role as part of the “I-4 corridor” which separates the Republican strongholds in north Florida with Democrat strongholds in south Florida. Trump carried Pinellas by a narrow margin of 5,000 votes (48.6-to-47.5 percent) on his way to a win Florida, a state he won by 120,000 votes.
In Pennsylvania, Luzerne, Northampton and Bucks played pivotal roles in turning the state to Trump by 45,000 votes.
In Michigan, Macomb, located just north of Detroit, is the third largest county in the state and home of the “Reagan Democrats.” Trump flipped Macomb with an additional 32,693 votes to win Michigan by 10,000 votes—the closest presidential election in the state’s history—to become the first Republican to carry the state since 1988.
Finally, Wisconsin was where the Clinton campaign was able to win Milwaukee County but was short almost 40,000 votes compared to President Obama’s state total from 2012. That made it very difficult for the campaign to win the state. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign was able gain enough rural votes to capture a 27,000 vote win.
Elections are still about finding the right voters and trying to persuade them with a message. This process is greatly enhanced by data and analytics. Campaigns shouldn’t be run in a vacuum with arbitrary GRP goals regardless of geographic or demographic targets.
Media consumption is changing as the demographics of our electorate change, and paid communications needs to make a parallel evolutions. Saturating only three or four television channels is not reflective of media consumption. The average American watches 15-plus channels, not including the two other screens which are essential to any campaign.
For the first time in politics, this cycle saw a reduction in broadcast advertising totals with a dramatic increase in the usage of local cable television, a natural reflection of viewing. With the addition of local cable, candidates can reach voters at the county level and below with an influential television message. Overlaid with a digital plan, campaigns can capture voters across multiple screens and target specific groups with a message.
How we do this effectively should be the conversation, not if media buys or big data is dead. Careful targeting and strategic planning is more important than ever.
As we saw this cycle, less than 0.1 percent of all the votes cast changed the results of three states and turned the election. The granularity of the 2016 results should not be lost on future candidates.
Tim Kay serves as the director of political strategy for NCC Media, a company jointly owned by Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.