Big data, social media and 2012’s winning coalition.

November 7, 2012

All over the web today, bloggers are dubbing election 2012 “revenge of the nerds.” Not just because Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog got the results right. But because the winners went deep with data to reach and move the voters that mattered.

Time Magazine ran a huge story this morning about the “quants and number crunchers who helped Obama win.” It chronicles the strategy behind all those messages you received from Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and Jim Messina asking for another $3 donation.

In addition to an aggressive, data driven email campaign, Obama’s camp used every social media platform and trick in the book. Cat photos on Tumblr? Check. Ask Me Anything on Reddit? Check.  Clever comeback to Eastwood’s empty chair speech on Twitter? Check. The end goal of all this activity? To get prospective supporters out from behind their computers and to the polls. From Vote with Friends on Facebook to Swingstaters, peer pressure was the method of choice. Of course, this method was also used offline, with’s mailed voter report cards designed to shamed non-voters into fulfilling their civic duty in 2012.  And for those stuck in long lines trying to do just that, Van Jones and 72,000 other people turned to Twitter to urge voters to #stayinline.

While political content cropped up on every platform from Pinterest to Instagram, Twitter was the real center of activity. The debates gave rise to the Big Bird and binders full of women memes, but it was election day itself that generated the most conversation. With 20 million tweets, #election2012 became the most popular hashtag ever. And that was not the only social media record broken on November 6. Obama’s victory photo earned 3.5 million likes in 12 hours, making it the most popular Facebook photo of all time. His victory tweet was retweeted 700,000 times, more than any other post from @BarackObama.

All of this online outreach helped build a strong community of Obama supporters. And Obama’s community reflected what Huffington Post this morning called “the new America.” His policy platform and campaign machine took the country’s changing demographics into account, and aimed to engage young voters, working class people, communities of color, and women. It worked.