(Bloomberg News) -- There may be no easier way to flummox operatives or journalists who insist on the importance of “data” and “analytics” in politics than asking them to explain exactly what the words mean to them. Today there is data generated by every arm of a campaign, and opportunities to analyze nearly all of it. Which of those challenges a campaign tries to take on with its limited time and resources can illuminate not only its technological fetishes but its view of the race: What innovations does it need to undertake to win?

In 2012, Mitt Romney was the only Republican candidate whose campaign even attempted to develop a sophisticated approach to using data and analytics. (Romney’s strongest rival in the primaries, Rick Santorum, boasted of not even having a pollster in his employ.) By the time he got to the general election, Romney’s small data-sciences team was fixated on one big problem: attempting to measure the causal interaction between television ads, media coverage, and poll numbers. As his lead data scientist, Alex Lundry, put it at the time: “How can we get a sense of whether this advertising is working?”

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