"Data-driven" campaigns are killing the Democratic Party

For four straight election cycles, Democrats have ignored research from the fields of cognitive linguistics and psychology that the most effective way to communicate with other humans is by telling emotional stories. Instead, the Democratic Party’s affiliates and allied organizations in Washington have increasingly mandated “data-driven” campaigns instead of ones that are message-driven and data-informed. And over four straight cycles, Democrats have suffered historic losses.

After the 2008 election, Democrats learned all the wrong lessons from President Obama’s victory, ascribing his success to his having better data. He did have better data, and it helped, but I believe he won because he was the better candidate and had a better message, presented through better storytelling.

I’m not a Luddite. I did my graduate work in political science at MIT, and as a longtime Democratic strategist, I appreciate the role that data can play in winning campaigns. But I also know that data isn’t a replacement for a message; it’s a tool to focus and direct one.

We Democrats have allowed microtargeting to become microthinking. Each cycle, we speak to fewer and fewer people and have less and less to say. We all know the results: the loss of 63 seats and control of the House, the loss of 11 seats and control of the Senate, the loss of 13 governorships, the loss of over 900 state legislative seats and control of 27 state legislative chambers.