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Top Obama Advisor: Using Data to Win Elections and Improve Healthcare

November 15, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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In a rousing keynote address at the New York eHealth Collaborative's Digital Health Conference, held in the Hilton in New York City, Jim Messina, recounted how his team used data to drive President Barack Obama towards re-election, and related that work to the possibilities within healthcare. 
Messina, the campaign manager for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign and the national director for Organizing for Action, spoke in front of an audience of approximate 1,100 attendees at the Digital Health Conference. The speech went into detail about the methods in which the campaign team used data to drive decisions for the election. This included using algorithms for email releases, doing analytic dives to figure out which celebrity who help the President move the fundraising needle (George Clooney,) and impressively accumulating 500 pieces of data on voters within battleground states.
The data used to profile voters in battleground states helped the Obama team predict behavior and understand who was a "persuadable voter," someone worth investing time and resources in. They figured out what shows these voters watched, what methods of communication they used, and where they could vote, and unsurprisingly Obama won a majority of their support. For email blasts, the team tinkered with different tag-line wordings, fonts, and timing, and ran analysis. In total, Messina says they raised $690 million through email, text message, and other digital platforms.  
"They didn't know who the undecided voters were, we did...because of the data," Messina told the audience. 
Turning to healthcare, Messina said this kind of data can be used to help better engage patients. "Let's provide patients with data to let them make decisions," he said. "Consumers don't yet run healthcare, but they will in the next 10 years and it will change the industry forever." 
In the talk, Messina talked about marrying art with science in both elections and in healthcare. He discussed the work being done at Enroll America, a nonprofit aiming to get people to sign up for health insurance. At the nonprofit, he said, leaders have used data to understand the importance of family and friends when trying to get someone to sign up for insurance and how they've brought on "local influencers" to target people through social media. 
In addition, Enroll America has created graphing maps to find where the uninsured are located. Without data modeling, Messina says, they would miss millions of uninsured people and the best tactic to reach them. Another example at Enroll America, he cited, was the realization through data that text messaging was the best way to engage underserved Hispanic and Black communities. He concluded by saying the attendees could save lives and improve costs for patients because they have the data to do so.