What's That Database Worth?

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal investigates the value and possible future uses of President Obama’s massive “data trove.”  Here’s a quick rundown of the data at stake:

Mr. Obama’s campaign collected 13.5 million email addresses in the 2008 election, according to people who worked on the effort. Officials say the list has grown since then, but officials won’t say by how much.

The campaign also has lists of volunteers, including the names of neighborhood team leaders who were the most active supporters. A donor database has names of millions of people who made small campaign contributions. Campaigns aren’t legally required to report the names of people who give less than $200 total, and these donors haven’t been made public.

Meckler reports that Obama’s staff plans to enlist supporters’ help in getting the President’s agenda passed, but is still debating what to do with the data over the long-term.  Staff are considering giving the data to the DNC or creating a new organization to house and update the data. “It goes stale,” said Laura Quinn, the president of Catalist, a Democratic data firm. “You have to continue to use it, synthesize it, store it, house it. It’s expensive. It’s quite a big enterprise.”  

Freakonomics readers, what do you think?  What’s the best use of Obama’s massive database?


Assuming he has legal ownership, he should keep it and use it for his post presidency advocacy work. Its not like he will go away in four years.

Seminymous Coward

They could, you know, delete it, having likely only received most entries with the expectation of their use being exclusively related to Obama's reelection.



Did all these people opt in ala spam laws, or is politics exempt?

My other thought is that given current technology drift, emails are going to be about as effective as telephone pole flyers by the time the next election rolls around.


I'd like to see it cross-referenced with the so-called 47%. Did he really win because of promised freebies?


If they are interested in 'sharing' it with the DNC they should setup a campaign to send a few emails out asking people to opt in to a DNC database. Otherwise, the Obama campaign is going to lose a lot of their good will.

Jeremiah Stanghini

This is a good idea. I just assumed that it would be passed on to the DNC, but based on your comment and "Seminymous Coward's" comment, it does seem unfair to simply hand the list of email addresses over to the DNC. Though, I wonder what the text said when folks signed up for emails from the campaign. That is, maybe they explicitly said that their email address may be used by the DNC. Who knows.


From the donkey's mouth:
"What Personal Information Do We Share With Third Parties?
It is our policy not to share the personal information we collect from you through our Sites with third parties, except as described in this Policy or as otherwise disclosed on the Sites. For example, we may share personal information as follows:

- with vendors, consultants, and other service providers or volunteers who are engaged by or working with us and who need access to such information to carry out their work for us;
- with candidates, organizations, groups or causes that we believe have similar political viewpoints, principles or objectives; ...."
Source: http://www.barackobama.com/privacy-policy?source=footer-nav

Of course being that it took me 5 minutes of reading to find this and most people won't bother, you still run the risk of upsetting people if the whole list is just turned over. Best practice is always to help the DNC seed their own and manage their own list.



It occurs to me that this database (DB) would be worth a lot of money to national, state, and local democratic campaigns. It should be worth some significant money now ($xx,xxx); but if maintained, mined, updated, etc. it could be worth more in 2013-2014 runs; and even more in 2015-2016 runs ($xxx,xxx). If the DNC took responsibility for the database, it could rent info to local and statewide runs in 2013-2014 getting returns on the money spent to acquire and maintain the DB, and update the data after that election with a current and ongoing renting-updating cycle for each election run thereafter. Very Powerful then.

ra goldstein

O did not throw out money. He threw out an idea which was mine to the individual voter. Your vote matters! And it did.

Kevin P.

Obama didn't build the database. Someone else did.


Make it public. Call it an economic stimulus. Advertisers would make billions targeting this credulous audience.


I think it is screwed up that the software for this site hides a comment with 16 thumbs up and 22 thumbs down. The driving force of Freakonomics is the unpopular opinion fought out to carry the day through logic. This isn't a place where majority should rule and censor.


Sell the names to telemarketers and use the proceeds to make a payment on the national debt.

Nokia Models

YES Obama is not good international leader.

Mark Fryer

For people like me, "OBOMA" is a brand that suggests: "thoughtfulness" and "progressivity" - these terms to be taken in the American political context. The database should be "named" with Oboma's brand and used to forward his political philosophies.


But how much is it really worth to someone other than Obama? More than just a collection of names and contacts, the database represents the people that he connected to in both of his campaigns- it's relational rather than transactional. The thing to take away is what that following meant to his campaign and how it translated into victory. A huge list of addresses is one thing- any telemarketer can have that, but it doesn't do you any good of the recipient just deletes your email. Future candidates will need to build their own repositories of devoted, engaged, and enthusiastic volunteers, donors, and voters - who are motivated to give their time and money and get to the polls. The Obama campaign has just shown them how to do it!


13.5 million email addresses? Of people who are willing to part with small amounts of money? Sounds like the start of a decent spam campaign.

Start selling medical marijuana prescriptions and you'd fund the war on drugs.

Jeremy Tschudin

Ms Quinn is right but think about NOT using it and having to recreate this effort which goes way beyond the e-mail addresses. If the Democratic Party doesn't find a way to make this the way politics is done in the future they're stupid. Part of the challenge is finding someone as smart as Harper Reed to maintain this creation. What they created was a revolutionary and really a paradigm shift in campaigning. The Republicans are unlikely to get it (just Google Harper Reed and see if you can imagine the Rep corporate type hiring this guy as their campaign technology head). The challenge for the Dems is to recognize the value of this creation and find a way to, as the lady said, not let it go stale and grow it.

Jerome S

How about he doesn't abuse our info and privacy any more than he already allows the NSA to do, and just deletes the data instead.

Eric M. Jones

Why is Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal interested in President Obama's (or the DNC's) email list? Why not the RNC's and Romney's and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS email list?

Are they somehow different? Or does the "Obama" list threaten them somehow?