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Clinton’s hyper-intelligent people couldn’t play the game of politics

It was the analytics, stupid.

To paraphrase the Bill Clinton 1992 campaign mantra reminding his staff to keep focused on the economy, in Hillary’s campaign, the focus was on the analytics, with quite a different result. 

Not the analytics alone, of course. There was considerable assistance in the defeat of Hillary Clinton from the emails, the deplorables, Donald Trump, James Comey, Bill Clinton, the Russians, Obamacare, Anthony Weiner’s libido, the Clinton Foundation, Wall Street, populist discontent with the status quo, white men, too many white women and the candidate herself. 

But it was the use, or maybe the misuse, of analytics, the computer-driven information about voters provided by five dozen mathematicians, that seems to have played an unusually large and ultimately fatal role in the way the Clinton campaign operated and ended.

Clinton, like her predecessor Barack Obama and his opponent, Mitt Romney, relied heavily on analytics, providing what the usually perceptive online magazine POLITICO called the key to her anticipated victory just two months before she lost. Donald Trump considered analytics overrated.

The disciples of analytics were two young men half the age of Hillary — or Trump — campaign manager Robby Mook and director of analytics Elan Kriegel. They were called the campaign’s central nervous system. Together, they were credited with running — until Nov. 9, 2016 — a “precise, efficient, meticulous and effective campaign.” After the election, they might have been better described as the campaign’s nervous breakdown.

Mook made his pre-Hillary reputation working for Howard Dean, Jean Shaheen, Clinton in 2008, Obama in 2012 and Virginia Gov. Terry McCauliffe in 2013. Kriegel, the analytics genius, worked as a producer for — are you ready for this — Bill O’Reilly. I am not making this up. Then he went back to school to study statistics and the rest, as they say, is the 2016 election.

Together, they built the most modern analytical campaign model ever, one that relied mostly on data from the numbers crunchers to the near exclusion of old-fashioned polling, knocking on doors, listening to people on the ground and trying to persuade the undecided.

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The book “Shattered,” the most authoritative re-creation of the Clinton failure up to now, describes a data-obsessed campaign that embraced a flawed strategy, based on flawed data, while ignoring the wisdom of party elders, including the candidate’s spouse, when he was right, and people working closest to the electorate in crucial states. 

It’s not that they weren’t warned that the strategy was flawed. As early as the Michigan primary in March, the final analytics erroneously predicted Hillary would defeat the surprisingly competitive populist Bernie Sanders by six points, 49 to 43 percent. 

This was based on data that correctly predicted that minority voters would account for 20 percent of the vote and strongly support Clinton, but it was way off on how white Democratic voters would perform in Hillary’s narrow defeat. Kriegel’s analysis had white women favoring Hillary by 10 points. She lost the white women’s vote 51 to 47 percent.

Mook and the mathematics-driven campaigners drew some comfort by Clinton’s predicted victory the same night in Mississippi, where she received 83 percent of the primary vote and 26 delegates, while Sanders was netting just four delegates in Michigan. 

Of course, Mississippi would be Trump country in the general election, but so, as it turned out, would Michigan. 

At about the same time as the Michigan defeat, The New York Times reported that Hillary had used a personal server in her Chappaqua home to conduct official State Department business. It was a story that, in various forms, would “bedevil her campaign right through Election Day,” wrote Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes in “Shattered.”

Campaign manager Mook’s analytics team had research that indicated the email wasn’t a problem … until it was. Campaign chairman John Podesta, the other chairman in the confusing campaign framework, was wary of the technology but also failed to understand the need to protect his own email.

The rest of the story is well known: the continuing overconfidence — some called it hubris — that convinced Hillary she could transfer resources from tight races to states where bigger victories might bring Democratic congressional candidates with her, and the campaign’s neglect of the Rust Belt states.

There were plenty of warnings, mostly from veteran campaigners and the people on the ground in crucial states, but the analytics contradicted the people, and the people lost.

“They just put too much faith in analytics, really maddening,” said John Alzone, the campaign’s pollster. 

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.