Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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WATCH: Tim Murphy Talks Political Data-Mining on Democracy Now!

| Mon Oct. 15, 2012 9:57 AM EDT

I was on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman on Monday morning talking about the Obama and Romney campaign's use of online and offline data-mining to learn more about you (and then ask you for money). Watch:

You can read my profile of Harper Reed, Obama for America's Chief Technology Officer, here. And here's the how-to guide on how the Obama campaign learns more (and more, and more) about you.

On Sunday, the New York Times covered a lot of familiar ground in a big piece on campaigns' use of consumer data—they've been using these databases since at least 2002—but one interesting nugget in there is the discussion of online shaming. Advocacy groups and campaigns have already experimented in sending out passive-aggressive mailers to voters (citing things like voting history) in order to coerce them into showing up at the polls or volunteering. Now they're branching out into the Internet as well, and using your own circles of friends to do it. (Here's a good example of this kind of pitch, from the Obama campaign, providing an online tracking number and gently asking you to correct the record if it's really true that you haven't given any money.)

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Is This the Most Lukewarm Romney Endorsement Ever?

| Fri Oct. 12, 2012 9:37 AM EDT

One of the hallmarks of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has been the long trail of less-than-enthusiastic endorsements he's received from important (mostly social conservative) leaders. Rick Santorum said Romney was "the better" candidate and, when pressed on whether it was an endorsement, countered, "If that's what you want to call it, you can call it whatever you want." Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist endorsed Romney by noting that conservatives didn't need a hero; just "a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen." Former President George W. Bush offered his blessing just before getting on an elevator. But this open letter, posted by Evangelical powerbroker and homeschool advocate Michael Farris on his Facebook page, has to win some sort of prize for least-enthusiastic endorsement.

Farris, founder of Virginia's Patrick Henry College (billed as the "Evangelical Ivy") threw his support to Santorum during the Republican primary, but met with Romney at the candidate's request on his campaign bus last month. He wasn't bullish on Romney going in. As he told CNN in April, "Some of us just have a hard time supporting a person who said he was going to be more liberal on gay rights than Ted Kennedy."

He's had a change of heart now. Sort of. "This election has caused me to understand that there is a difference between 'endorsing' a candidate and voting for a candidate," Farris writes. "Because of my leadership position, I have come to understand that there should be a very high standard that I should employ before I endorse a candidate." Mitt Romney doesn't reach that standard.

On only one issue (out of five) does Farris conclude that Romney is "one of us"—he's a good family man. Otherwise, it's a litany of not-quites and could-be-worse.

On abortion: "Mitt Romney has a checkered past on the issue. He claims that he has been converted to the pro-life position. I don't feel convinced that he has fully converted. However, it is clear that he is talking pro-life talk and taking pro-life positions. I think he does this, at least in part, because he realizes that being perceived as pro-life is necessary for his political success...at a minimum, I think we can count on him to keep up this pragmatic approach until November of 2016."

On marriage: "He now says that he is against same-sex marriage. But his rhetoric and record is so mixed on homosexual rights issues that it is hard to know what to expect."

On the role of government: "Mitt Romney will spend way too much money and will promote programs at the federal level that properly belong to the states. But, unlike Barack Obama he does not believe in the redistribution of wealth as a moral imperative... He is indifferent to small government conservative views on spending, but he is not an enemy of private property that is inherent in those who believe in the redistribution of wealth."

When I caught up with Farris at his Purcellville, Virginia office on Wednesday he emphasized that his essay was not an endorsement. He wasn't encouraging conservatives to volunteer for Romney, or even vote for him; it's entirely up to them. This matters because Farris isn't just a advocate for the legal rights of homeschoolers—he's the founder of Generation Joshua, an activist organization that sends homeschoolers to swing states in the final weeks before big elections to knock on doors and make phone calls for likeminded politicians. In previous years, those kids (about 2,000 of them) have chipped in for GOP presidential candidates like George W. Bush. But this time around, Farris says, they'll be focusing solely on House and Senate races. "We've previously done it for presidential campaigns, but frankly we haven't been asked."

Still, even if the love isn't there for Romney, he's confident homeschoolers will have enough of an incentive to get out the vote: "The difference this time," Farris says, "is that the fear of a Barack Obama second term is greater than anything I've ever seen."

At VP Debate, Biden Goes All in on 47 Percent

| Thu Oct. 11, 2012 9:24 PM EDT

Conspicuously absent from the first Presidential debate in Denver last week: Any mention, by President Obama, of the most damaging quote of his opponent's political career—Mitt Romney's dismissal of the 47 percent of Americans as "entitled" moochers. At Thursday's vice presidential debate, Joe Biden didn't make that mistake.

The veep lit into Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, seizing on the congressman's own assertion that America was increasingly becoming a nation of takers:

We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that — when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, “No, let Detroit go bankrupt.” We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, “No, let foreclosures hit the bottom.”

But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently in a speech in Washington said “30 percent of the American people are takers.”

These people are my mom and dad — the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, "not paying any tax."

I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we’re going to level the playing field; we’re going to give you a fair shot again; we are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the super wealthy.

The Most Important Moment in Last Night's Mass. Senate Debate

| Thu Oct. 11, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

The quickest way to understand the dynamic of the Massachusetts Senate race was to tune into Wednesday night's debate and listen for the proper nouns.

Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, with the exception of a couple ultra-local references—Westover Air Reserve Base's new C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft—kept it national. She mentioned Mitt Romney and the Republican party four times apiece, Grover Norquist three times, President Obama twice, and New Gingrich once. Sen. Scott Brown (R), desperate to convince Massachusetts' largely moderate electorate he's super-independent, never once mentioned either of the two major parties, nor did he identify either of the major presidential candidates by name. Instead, he did everything but pull out a copy of the Springfield Yellow Pages and start reading from it. He mentioned Milano's (a local restaurant), Friendly's (a local chain), the Big E (the local state fair), Mass. Mutual (the local insurance giant), former Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, and Celtics legend Bob Cousy—all two times apiece. He talked up Boston College, Tufts University, Wakefield High School, and Bristol Community College.

Brown, trailing in 9 of the 11 most recent polls, is trying to disassociate himself from the Republican party. But it's looking like a losing battle. Here's what I thought was the most illuminating moment of the debate. It was Warren taking Brown to task on equal pay and reproductive rights—and then, after Brown responds, hammering him again almost verbatim a few minutes later:

This is a side of Warren—righteous anger—we really hadn't seen in either of the first two debates. And it's especially damaging because it frames Brown as squarely in the embrace of the national GOP. As Warren put it, "These issues were decided until the Republicans brought them back."

Obama Campaign Now Employing Jedi Mind Tricks

| Wed Oct. 10, 2012 1:44 PM EDT

I wrote a long piece for the current issue of the magazine (on newstands now!) about the Obama re-election team's efforts at constructing the "smart campaign." The tl;dr version is that Chicago is using data-mining, analytics, and behavioral science to a degree that hasn't been attempted before—all with the goals of squeezing their supporters for cash and volunteer hours and coaxing sympathetic voters to the polls.

One of the easiest ways to see this in action is through the fundraising emails the Obama campaign sends out, which vary substantially depending on the audience. ProPublica, which set out to track these emails last spring, found that a single pitch comes in no fewer than 11 different flavors. Any interaction you have with that an email—whether you responded with a donation, or whether you just clicked through at all—can be tracked by the campaign. That helps them learn a little bit about you, but it also helps them learn a little bit about themselves; they can send out blasts to randomized samples to determine what works and what doesn't.

And now, with four weeks to go until election day, here's the latest pitch I received in my inbox, nominally from the campaign's COO, Ann Marie Habershaw:

Supporter ID number? Passive-aggressive receipt? Sounds like a Jedi mind trick.

Or maybe it's just behavioral science—something Democratic groups have been experimenting with increasingly through the work of the electioneering think-tank, the Analyst Institute. As Sasha Issenberg chronicles in his new book, Victory Lab, in 2010 Democrats sent out mailers to Colorado Democrats in advance of the midterm election, thanking them personally for voting in 2008—and then thanking them in advance for voting in 2010. The passive-aggressive mailers boosted turnout among recipients by 2.5 percent. As Issenberg puts it, they were "designed to push buttons that many voters didn't even know they had."

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