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Algorithm determines 'ideal' VP candidates for Obama, McCain

Affinnova relied on technology developed by MIT

By Grant Gross
June 30, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - It turns out that the ideal vice presidential candidate for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is the same person as the ideal vice presidential candidate for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic nominee, according to a sophisticated online survey by Affinnova Inc.

For both candidates, the best running mate is Colin Powell, a former U.S. Army general and former secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, according to the survey, which was powered by an Affinnova algorithm it calls "evolutionary optimization."

"We never imagined that the same candidate would show up for both parties," said Steve Lamoureaux, Affinnova's chief innovation officer.

Powell hasn't publicly expressed an interest in running for vice president. McCain and Obama have both begun their searches for running mates.

Powell's links to the current Iraq war didn't seem to bother survey respondents, said Kevin Karty, vice president of analytics at Affinnova. In early 2003, Powell argued for the war before the United Nations Security Council, but since leaving the Bush administration, he has criticized its handling of the war.

"There might be an indication that people are willing to give him a pass [on Iraq]," Karty said. "He seems to be an extremely credible figure ... and he's trustworthy."

In addition to surveying people about 100 potential vice presidential candidates, Affinnova also asked respondents about 120 issues that could be priorities in an Obama or a McCain administration. Affinnova included seven Iraq-related policies in the survey, and none of them made the top 25 issues for supporters of either candidate.

Economic issues dominated the results, with five of the top eight priorities among Obama supporters being economic issues and four of the top seven among McCain supporters. "The economy shows up time and time again in the top 10," Lamoureaux said.

Affinnova typically uses its survey algorithm technology to help companies test new products and do other kinds of marketing research, but the company turned to politics to demonstrate the technology, Lamoureaux said. The Affinnova methods, based on technology developed at MIT, doesn't use the typical polling method of asking respondents to pick a name from a list. Instead, Affinnova's methodology gives respondents larger concepts, including photos, biographical information and possible first-term priorities.

Respondents went through 20 to 25 rounds of questions, typically with three choices of presidential and vice presidential candidates and their possible priorities. This method simulates real-world options more accurately than telephone polling and allows the testing of a wide range of alternatives, Affinnova said.

Waltham, Mass.-based Affinnova conducted the online survey of 2,000 likely voters June 12-17.

Companies that have used Affinnova's survey techniques include Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and Wal-Mart, the company said.

Among Obama supporters, Powell was the top pick for vice president by a wide margin, Lamoureaux said. Behind Powell were former Vice President Al Gore and former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, who tied for second, followed by Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards. Affinnova was a bit surprised by Gephardt's strong showing; the Missouri Democrat has been out of public office for three years.

Powell had a slight lead among McCain supporters, with current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney tied for second. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani came in fifth.

Clinton, Edwards and Giuliani had strong support among some voters, but lost points due to high negative ratings, Affinnova said.

The top issues for Obama supporters in the survey were middle-class tax cuts, an improved health-care system, a change in trade policy that supports U.S. jobs, increased support for alternative energy sources, and an improved education system.

Top issues for McCain supporters were stopping congressional earmarks and wasteful government spending, reforming defense spending, cutting taxes, improving pay and support for military families, and modernizing and increasing the size of the U.S. military.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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