Living in Society

Journeyman Datahead

Political Retirement Party

I volunteered to be the “data guy” for a local political campaign this year.

Being a datahead, data guy is a reasonable fit, although I prefer the usage “datahead” to “data guy.” Whatever they want to call me will do.

“Datahead” refers to a person who is well versed in general knowledge. What we dataheads know is data is dead if it becomes disconnected from a living society. For example, in politics people often compare the number of registered Republican voters in a district to the number of registered Democratic voters and make an argument based on “data.” Often forgotten in such analyses is that no preference voters, like those in the district on which I am working, have more voter registrations than either party-specific voter group. People are weary and suspicious of politics and no preference voters include mostly recovering Democratic and Republican voters. Think of it as the voter version of Alcoholics Anonymous: Voters Anonymous. I’m not quick to draw conclusions based on voter registrations, despite what such data may indicate in a spreadsheet or computer application.

After arrival at Fort Jackson, S.C. for U.S. Army basic training I was assigned to a barracks on Tank Hill. On weekends we hung out at the barracks. I would read Chaucer in my upper bunk while a group of fellow soldiers played whist on the lower bunk. They called me “professor,” and I liked the appellation. Sometimes people call me “professor” today but I am no longer the sharpest knife in the drawer, so I’m not sure the usage is warranted. I know a few things but have forgotten as much as I know. I enjoyed hanging out with those Alabama National Guardsmen.

In a political campaign people have specific questions and want answers. My experience often comes into play. In part, I serve as technician, collecting and analyzing data and experiences… suggesting which voters to contact, which strategies and tactics to pursue. I’m also an advisor using life experience to influence the direction of a campaign while answering questions. I’m a journeyman datahead, helping where I can but always deferring to others in decision making. I enjoy hanging out with people working on our campaign.

Much has been made of the data-driven campaign beginning with Howard Dean and Joe Trippi in the run up to the 2004 election. There is no political substitute for meeting voters, especially at their home, and ferreting out what they believe and feel about the needs of the body politic. Campaigns will always need workers to do the tedious, repetitive work of voter contact. Lesson learned: wearing orange hats while canvassing voters, as out of state Deaniacs did, is not recommended.

I’m glad there continues to be a role in politics for journeyman dataheads like me. It’s a chance to make a positive contribution as we pass the baton to the next generation.