‘Mind the Gap’: The group applying ‘Moneyball’ approach in politics

In 2002, ‘Oakland Athletics’ baseball team, also known as Oakland A’s, made history by approaching baseball in an unorthodox and revolutionary way, by using statistics rather than human judgement and traditional scouts’ baseball wisdom.

The team had less money than other teams to spend on players. So, out of necessity, its managers were forced to think outside the box and change the game.

By using data analysis, they found valuable players who have been disregarded and undervalued. At first, so many baseball experts and talent agents were dismissive of the idea, but one of the least wealthy teams in Major League Baseball went on to make history.

They set a record of 20-game winning streak; which means winning 20 consecutive games. They beat New York Yankees’ record of year 1947, in which they had 19 consecutive wins.

All thanks to using sabermetrics and analytical approach, they found inefficiency in the market for baseball players.


WHAT IS SABERMETRICS?

Sabermetrics is a science of sports. It’s the analysis of baseball through statistics that measure each player’s activities in games; used to predict the performance of players, giving teams a winning edge.

The term ‘Sabermetrics’ was coined by statistician and baseball writer Bill James, who is one of its creators and prominent advocates.

But is baseball the only place in which there is inefficiency and asymmetry in the market?

In other words, can other aspects of human lives be transformed significantly, by using careful data analysis and algorithms?

One political group is out to test this question. The name is “Mind the Gap”.


MIND THE GAP!

Mind the Gap is a group of prominent and wealthy Democratic donors, trying to approach politics in an unconventional way; by identifying and supporting unheeded and overlooked candidates, using the same analytical approach as the Oakland A’s.

This group has been established two years ago, and consists of some Silicon Valley executives, led by Stanford University academics.

Its goal is to elect Democratic candidates and its backers include people like Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, San Francisco power broker Ron Conway, and a number of major Democratic donors from across Silicon Valley, including fundraiser Amy Rao.

The group’s leaders are two Stanford law professors : Barbara Fried, who has no campaign experience, and Paul Brest.

Graham Gottlieb, a Stanford fellow who served in junior roles for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and in his White House, is the executive director of Mind the Gap.

If we haven’t heard of them much or ever before, it means they achieved their goal of remaining under radar and mostly secretive.

As one person with ties to the organization told Recode : “The raison d’être is stealth”

Fried declined to answer specific questions from Recode about Mind the Gap’s efforts, she just noted:

“Most people have no idea whether their political contributions will actually make a difference. Our aim is to evaluate the efficacy of different forms of political and civic engagement, and provide our conclusions free to individual, interested donors so they can make more educated decisions about where their money would be most effectively spent.”


The main strategy of Mind the Gap is to hide which Democratic candidate it is supporting, until it’s too late for the Republicans to focus on that specific race and try to come up with money to par with it and mobilize support.

So Mind the Gap’s game plan has been to have its donors begin shoveling money behind Democrats only in the of an fall election season — sometimes all on the same day — before Republicans have a chance to notice that they are soon to be outspent by Democrats (and then try to catch up).

For the 2018 midterm elections cycle, the group supported 20 candidates. 10 of them won.


MONEYBALL OF POLITICS

Mind the Gap pitched donors a statistical model that tried to assess the precise impact of each additional dollar on the chance that Democrats would win the House of Representatives — as opposed to conventional thinking of funding the easiest seats to flip. It’s an approach one donor called the “Moneyball of politics”.

Moneyball refers to the book of the same name, written by former investment banker and writer, Michael Lewis, which depicts the journey of Oakland A’s and how their investment in sabermetrics paid off.

10 of the 20 candidates supported by Mind the Gap group running for 2018 midterm elections won their races. Overall, according to the Recode article, Mind the Gap sent $11 million to Democratic candidates and another $9 million to Democratic organizations.

Their message to donors was: Don’t fund the congressional races that are the likeliest to flip (meaning a Democrat defeating a Republican incumbent currently holding the seat). Those are already overfunded. Instead, fund the slightly less probable to flip (for example, the ones in which a Democrat might have a one-third chance of winning) and where each donor dollar is more likely to make a difference.

A model that Mind the Gap’s leaders called an “efficient funding”.


2020 ELECTION

The group now is focusing on upcoming 2020 presidential election. They’re directing donors to pour money into groups that are active in voter registration and turnouts.

In December 2019, the group sent a memo to its donors in regards to 2020 election: “Anything could happen between now and next November to change the picture significantly. But we have no control over most of the things that will happen. As ever, the question for us is, what can we influence, and where will money make the biggest difference.”

In 1895, Mark Hanna, a U.S. senator from Ohio, explained how politics works: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

A sentiment that is true to this day; but will smart financing make big-money donations less salient? We shall see.

By linking academics and big-tech, Mind the Gap is testing new territories, one which might change trajectory of donations, targeted ads, and maybe even politics as a whole.


Maryam Rahmani

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