Thomas Beaumont

PHILADELPHIA: Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton by months, even years, in using fast-evolving digital campaigning to win over voters, data specialists working with the GOP say.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has dismissed the science that defines 21st century political campaigns, a tool that President Barack Obama used effectively in winning two terms and the Clinton campaign has worked on for nearly a year.

And while it is too early to tell whether the late start signals trouble for Trump, it illustrates the difference between Trump’s proudly outsider campaign and the institutional knowledge within Clinton’s.

“She’s been able to prepare a general election campaign since the beginning,” said Alex Lundry, former senior technology adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign. “That head start in terms of time is extraordinarily valuable.”

Precision digital-marketing data, a person’s online footprints, have become an electoral science that Democrats have dominated, and Republicans have chased, for a decade. Campaigns used the data at first simply to track supporters. The information now guides a range of decisions, like the types and volume of advertising, where to deploy campaign staff to mobilize voters and where a candidate should visit.

Trump’s team has been unclear about its use of data in the general election.

Trump told the Associated Press this month the tool was “overrated” and he planned “limited” data use during the general election, though his campaign has worked with firms and a small in-house staff to track voters during the primaries.

Later, senior adviser Rick Wiley, who was hired in April, suggested Trump would run a “state of the art” campaign and use data strategically.

“All of the data points — whatever they are — our ability to harvest that data is invaluable,” said Wiley, the Republican National Committee’s former executive director. He has since left the campaign, after what a source close to the matter said were disagreements with Trump loyalists about who should lead campaign efforts in key states. The person spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authorization to discuss internal campaign matters publicly.

Given how Republicans have long trailed Democrats in digital campaigning, Trump’s grudging talk and Wiley’s departure hardly signal a rush to catch up.

Trump spent more than $1 million in April on campaign paraphernalia like caps, T-shirts and signs. Even as he was effectively seizing the nomination, he spent less than a third of that amount on data and related functions such as telemarketing.