Meet the RNC’s New Digital and Data Lab! (And Listen to Them Say Data 102 Times)

The Republican National Committee recently announced their digital and data innovation lab called Para Bellum Labs. While most of the Internet was getting lost in the idea that Republicans named their new lab after either a gun or a war-before-peace saying, what was lost in the noise is that the GOP still doesn’t get how to structure their organization to optimally use data.

What is data as it pertains to politics? Most people don’t know that their voter registration is public record. Every state has different privacy laws about what information the public is allowed to see. Some states give birth dates while others only give a voter’s birth year. Some states make a voter’s race available while others do not. Some states tell you what political party a person is registered with while others do not. For your voting history someone can see what elections you voted in from presidential to municipal (but not who you voted for). Oftentimes you can also see what party’s primary someone voted in. Just off that information alone a data scientist can learn a lot about who you are.  If you’ve voted in the past four presidential elections I can assume you’re likely to vote in the next one. If you’ve voted in only Democratic primaries for the last 20 years then it’s extremely likely you’re a Democrat. These two data sets are the most important pieces of information for a political campaign and are the basis for almost everything else a campaign does.

How does digital fit in with all of this? On the surface you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that a campaign’s digital department is in charge of their online presence. Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, and SnapChat dick pics all come from there. There’s also a huge email section of the digital team that is in charge of fundraising and event recruitment communications. These are essential campaign responsibilities that can not only be optimized with the help of the data team but the results of these communications can also be fed back to the data team to get a better idea of what type of person someone is. When tweeting about a Women for Romney event, does a picture of Mitt or a picture of Ann yield more signups? Does a person whose first campaign event was a rally end up making more calls or knocking more doors than a volunteer whose first event was a phone bank? These are all questions that are answered with the help of the digital and data departments.

But there’s one area of politics that isn’t mentioned in this video and is the biggest deficiency in the GOP: analytics. The analytics team is in charge of taking as much data as is available to them and developing statistical models that drive every campaign decision. While the data department may be in charge of tracking how a campaign is doing with their phone banking goals, the analytics department is telling the volunteers who they should be calling to have the best chance at recruiting another phone banker. While the digital department may be in charge of tweeting out localized campaign messages, the analytics department is telling them which messages resonate the best with voters.

Republicans need to realize that you shouldn’t group data and digital together. These are two separate entities and should be treated as such. The person that runs the campaign’s Twitter account and the person that tracks a campaign’s phone banking data have completely separate responsibilities. While data and digital can work together to make online communications more effective, their link is no stronger than that between digital and communications shops or data and field departments. The point is that every department on a political campaign is essential and can each benefit from the other. You need the right organizational structure to make sure that a rising tide can lift all boats. When you have one boat that’s way bigger than the others, and that huge boat also has competing interests within itself, you’re going to sink faster than John McCain.

It was the best of times…

Alex Russell

It’s Oscar season, and there’s no better time to do a thing we were gonna do anyway even if it wasn’t Oscar season. Today marks the official debut of my own feature here “Worst Best Movie.” I’m gonna watch every single Best Picture winner ever and compare them to Crash. To get a baseline, I watched the supposed worst winner ever and… yeah, that’s about right. See what I said here, if you missed it.

Before that, though, Andrew Findlay will be by to tell you how great Margaret Atwood is. He’s not often wrong about this sort of thing, so you might want to pay attention.

Have a good Friday. Play nice with the other dogs.

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Two Great Tastes

Alex Russell

One of my favorite things about this site’s development has been the range, so far. Today we’ve got two great tastes: Alex Marino railing at a young adult literature adaptation and Austin Duck talking about the connections between the TV we should be watching, the books we should be reading, and the movies we are watching.

The rest of the week is more about casual gaming, some new TV commentary, and some other treats. We’ll also continue our search for the worst Oscar winner of all time, if I can stand to talk about Crash again.

Keep in mind that if you have an idea for a piece, we want to hear from you. Especially you, after what you did.

Image credit: (irony!)

Tuesday Morning

Alex Russell

Welcome to Tuesday Morning. In attempting to find something interesting to say about Tuesdays in general I stumbled across the Wiki for Tuesday Morning, that store that sells lamps your mom likes. The article is marked NPOV because it’s “written like an ad.” I don’t know, I’d say telling people that Tuesday Morning is a “no-frills environment” is just their way of saying “it’s dirty so we can pass the savings on to you.”

I’m not here just to rep T.M., though. Today we’ve got Scott Phillips with another installment of his “Conversations with my Future Son” series. Learn about Neon Deion if you’re Scott’s son from the future or if you’re someone else entirely. After that, I’ll be back to wrap up the first two weeks of this season of Archer. I never know in the daily update, do I still spell it out and call myself Alex Russell, even with a byline on this news post? It’s indecision like that that cost me my position as Community Manager for Tuesday Morning.

Image source: Wiki

New Kids

Alex Russell

Another week! We’ve got two new kiddos with us moving forward. Andrew Findlay will be by to talk about sci-fi lit in just a few minutes – love him like one of your own. It’s a helluva read. After that, we’ll hear from our official gaming correspondent Brent Hopkins in a new feature about the good stuff and bad stuff about casual gaming. It’s more than Candy Crush. We promise.

We’re also answering another Tough Question this week. What would you want your last status update ever to be? What comes up when you Google yourself? Mine’s boring – but that’s because they haven’t found what I buried yet.

Put your feet up, stay awhile.

Image source: Amazing picture from Wiki.


Alex Russell

Today we’re gettin’ into it.

Alex Marino will be by in a few minutes to tell you about the trailer for Ride Along. There’s a solid Conan clip with it, so if nothing else you can enjoy that.

Mike Hannemann closes us out today with a strong defense of a show that it hurts me to even mention. I can’t believe it – but this man offers a defense of The Big Bang Theory. Maybe you’ll agree with it and maybe you won’t. I have strong opinions about the show, but we cast a wide net here.

Big tent! Big ideas! We’re tackling the big stories here, kiddos. Tomorrow we’ll be back with a new feature and hot dogs, Cokes, and balloons for the kids.

Note: Some of that statement is false. Some of this is true. Tricks!

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Breaking New Ground!

Alex Russell

Day three here and we’ve got two new features! Austin Duck joins us today to share some “Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry” which, when you think about it, is for you no matter who you are, right? There’s some salty language in that one, but we’re all adults here.

Alex Marino also launches a feature today as he breaks down previews for upcoming less-than-masterpieces with his feature “This Looks Terrible.” Today is the new Jack Ryan movie. Watch it with us, won’t you?

Well, watch the preview with us.



Alex Russell

Day three and we’re already gettin’ weird on you.

Today marks the debut of my good friend Scott, and he’s here to tell you about how he would explain things to his future son. We’re all about coming from different perspectives here, so that’s why today is about the story-based adventure/discovery game Gone Home and Paul Wall.

Not at the same time, but it’s about both. Listen, just stick around. Trust me, for once in your life.

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Our Sophomore Year

Alex Russell

We’re back! We made it two days, which means that we’re all grown up now. No father wants to see their baby leave the nest, but here we are.

Today we’re taking on our first Tough Question. Everyone who writes here will answer a tough one on Mondays. We’re also talking about what’s on TV on the worst night on the week. This is a big week. Let’s spend it together.

Or, you know, let’s just get a beer sometime.

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Step Into Our Office

Alex Russell

Welcome to the first post.

If this is your first time here you’d do well to start with our about page where you can read our purpose statement. If you can’t be bothered or have some other aversion to about pages, it’s simple: Reading at Recess is an uncalled-for response to the way people talk about culture. Tons and tons of people do it right. Tons and tons more do it wrong.

We’re just hoping to split the difference. Nothing’s set in stone yet past the start. Today we’re gonna talk about the newspaper of record covering a weird Adult Swim show, the web’s premier music criticism site loving a song that has less lyric diversity than “Around the World,” and just why everyone might be watching “America’s Most Watched Network.”

We’ll be back on Monday. We’ve got an argument about how last year’s game of the year isn’t a game, some resolutions about change in the new year, and a look at why Friday is such a television black hole for the major networks.

Welcome to this.

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