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Tech

Google's Eric Schmidt Is Pouring 'Millions' Into Progressive Big Data

The new analytics firm has pledged to serve only liberal causes. Can it keep its commitment?

(Lee Jin-man/AP)

photo of Brian Fung
May 30, 2013

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is pouring "several million" dollars into creating a digital analytics firm made up of Obama for America alums. The new consultancy, Civis Analytics, is being headed up by 30-year-old Dan Wagner and will be based in Chicago, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The new outfit plans to apply the same data strategies that produced a win for President Obama last year toward advancing other progressive causes—and only progressive causes:

Dartmouth’s Eric Johnson says nonprofits could also gain, offering the hypothetical example of how Save the Children could improve its response to an earthquake in India by using analytics to tweak the content and timing of its fundraising appeals.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, has hired Civis to figure out why high-achieving, low-income students are less likely to apply to elite schools than equally qualified students from wealthier families—and then to design a campaign to guide more of them to better colleges.

 

Other businesses in digital politics have tried to serve one side exclusively before, and it doesn't always work. The online petition service Change.org began as a progressive enterprise, and so did the organizational tool Salsa Labs. Now the former has opened up to conservative advertisers, and a leadership change at the latter has raised questions over its liberal commitment.

But Civis Analytics may be different. Unlike NationBuilder or Change.org, which are designed to be used cheaply at the grassroots level, Civis occupies a more rarified position.

"What Dan Wagner's group is doing is the actual analytics at a higher price point," said Michael Podhorzer, the political director at the AFL-CIO and chairman of the Analyst Institute, the Left's laboratory for developing voter-contact strategies. "It's not in exactly the same space, but it's along the lines of Democratic pollsters and Democratic strategists—where there are very few firms that market to both sides."

Even as liberals bask in the knowledge of their technological edge, they aren't resting.

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