Romney’s ‘Orca’ App a Beached Whale on Election Day

by Matt Klassen on November 12, 2012

It was dubbed Project Orca, an advanced little election app designed to allow Republicans to get real-time voter information county by county, allowing Mitt Romney’s team to target their efforts on communities with low Republican voter turnouts.

Approaching Election Day the mobile project was seen as the ace-in-the-hole for the Republican Party, its Killer Whale name chosen in response to President Obama’s similarly aimed Project Narwhal, the Orca being the only natural predator for the distinctively tusked marine mammal. In fact, on Election Day when negative advertising, incessant polling, and other political manoeuvres finally became ineffective, it was the technology the Republicans put their faith in to win them the election.

The problem for Romney’s Election Day team, however, was that come Zero Hour, when all the chips were on the table, the very technology the Republicans were depending on to tip the scales in their favour proved, at least in part, to be their undoing.

Now don’t get me wrong, Romney’s loss in the 2012 Presidential Election was not simply due to the Republicans putting their complete faith on Election Day in a mobile app that failed to produce, but in this technological age where such elections are won and lost because of a candidate’s social and mobile presence, the disappointing performance of Project Orca certainly didn’t help.

At its heart Orca was truly something unique but not quite revolutionary, a real-time picture of the unfolding election results, giving Republican foot soldiers the information about which county’s had strong voter turnouts and which one’s didn’t; the hope being that resources could be reallocated at a moment’s notice to try and mobilize non-voting Republicans.

The problems for Romney’s Orca app, however, began immediately on Election Day. As Zac Moffatt, digital director for Romney campaign, explained, “The primary issue was we beta-tested in a different environment than the Garden [BostonGarden, where the 800 campaign staffers were working]. There was so much data coming in — 1200 records or more per minute — it shut down the system for a time. Users were frustrated by lag, and some people dropped off and we experienced attrition as a result.”

This failure to produce the necessary real-time voter picture coupled with a much lower than expected Republican voter turnout meant that county’s that might have voted for Romney with the right amount of motivation went to Obama instead. It’s difficult to say for certain how many electoral votes Romney lost because of Orca directly, but suffice it to say the entire campaign’s Election Day strategy was ground to a halt several times when it mattered the most.

Of course Moffatt did go on to say that in his estimation Orca was a success, and the Republican loss in the election had nothing to do with the glitches in the app—something I would expect to hear from the man in charge of its creation and implementation.

The real technological failure of the Republicans, however, came not in the implementation of their mobile technology, but in the scope of it. The reality is that four years ago the Republicans were on the cutting edge of statistical technology; a lesson Obama’s Democratic regime noted and took to heart. Now in 2012 Romney’s approach remained static, while the Obama campaign evolved to use complex statistical analysis algorithms to determine those most likely to vote Democrat, focusing their Election Day efforts on those groups.

In the end, regardless of what side of the floor you’re on, it’s easy to see that technology played a huge role in the results of this election, it just so happened that on this occasion the diminutive narwhal struck a deadly blow against the mighty predatory Orca.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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