Slaby and others from the campaign said that while it relied on detailed analyses of cable television viewing habits and website traffic, personal information from those sources was made anonymous and did not flow back into the voter database.
The most important information, officials said, was provided by voters themselves whenever they had contact with the campaign, in person or online, enriching the database with email addresses, cellphone numbers and, crucially, information about what issues most concerned them.
This allowed the campaign’s analysts to test the effectiveness of messages aimed at narrow demographic slices — single women in their 30s worried about health care, for example. Though often described as “microtargeting,” Slaby said the most important element was what he called “micro-listening.”
“If people tell us they’re interested in cats, we probably took that down,” he said.
Despite some glitches, Narwhal proved crucial in helping the campaign allocate resources, especially as voting finally began.
The Romney’s campaign computer system, which officials there dubbed Orca after one of the few known predators of narwhals, crashed so badly on Election Day that many Republicans have derisively rechristened it “the Fail Whale.” The term was popularized by users of Twitter, which showed a cartoon image of a flock of birds attempting to lift a smiling, chubby whale when the company’s systems were overmatched.