This is shocking. Not because of what it says…anyone with access to a calculator and a bit of commons sense has known this since November 2016…but because of where it is published. From the Washington Post: That sophisticated, specific Russian 2016 voter targeting effort doesn’t seem to exist. What he’s talking about here is that sophisticated operation that resulted in Robert Mueller’s merry band indicting three Russian companies and 13 Russian nationals. The operation that, at the cost of about $100,000, handed the election to Donald Trump and cheated Hillary Clinton of her turn.
It’s important to remember how important geography is to U.S. presidential politics. You know this, of course; had the popular vote determined the 2016 winner instead of geography, Donald Trump would be in negotiations to renew “Celebrity Apprentice.” But it means that targeting, say, 30- to 40-year-olds across the country with an interest in jazz music who own guns is probably less helpful for winning an election than targeting New Hampshirites, even if it’s much more specific.
Most of the ads purchased by the Russians didn’t specify a geographic target smaller than the United States on the whole, according to a Post review of the ads released by the House Intelligence Committee. Those that did target specific states heavily targeted those that weren’t really considered targets of the 2016 election, such as Missouri and Maryland. And of those ads that did target specific states, most happened well before or well after the final weeks of the campaign.
More than half of the actual clicks on ads, in fact, came after the election.
The most successful of the ads that ran in those three states at the end of the campaign, it seems, was this one — which ran not only in Michigan, but also California, Illinois, New York and Texas.
That ad is below:
It has been argued that the focus on messages disparaging Hillary Clinton in the black community might have been effective at tamping down turnout in important ways. What that argument misses, though, is that the ads at the tail end of the campaign didn’t really focus on suppressing turnout that heavily, and that it was generally much broader outreach than targeting people in particular places.
Could the Russians have deployed sophisticated social media tracking tools to follow users across sites and determine where they were based, then tailor political messages to the broad groups or Twitter accounts they created? In theory, sure — but it seems like an awfully indirect way of targeting specific geographies, especially when they were already buying ads with specific geographic targets without raising any eyebrows.
The article also takes aim at the story of Paul Manafort giving internal Trump campaign polling to his Russian partner for distribution to his Ukrainian pay masters (see here | here). Here they point out a detail that me, and just about everyone else missed.
If we’re talking about specific poll data being passed from the Trump campaign to Russia, though, the presumption is that the Russians would receive information that allowed very specific targeting of voters in places that would have had the biggest effect on the 2016 election.
There are a lot of ways in which even that broadly stated paragraph doesn’t match well with what’s known about the Manafort situation. According to the New York Times, the information passed from Manafort included some proprietary information but, for the most part, was public, obviating the need for much cloak and dagger. The data was passed to Manafort’s colleague Konstantin Kilimnik in the spring of 2016, before Trump had been nominated by the Republican Party. It’s data that, by Election Day, would be several months out of date.
Now that we’ve ruled out the impact of Russia media purchases on the 2016 election, what the hell is Mueller actually looking at? And why, if the Washington Post can do this analysis, hasn’t Mueller announced it, too?
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