40 Under 40 Winner Interview with Matthew Knee
By The American Association of Political Consultants
June 14, 2019
Matt is a veteran political data scientist with experience providing modeling, analytics, and strategic consulting to clients at all levels of politics, from state and local races to senatorial and presidential campaigns and national committees. He earned his M.A. and M.Phil. (Ph.D. ABD) in Political Science at Yale, and uses that background to focus on leveraging social science, political psychology, and statistics to win elections.
Matt was the primary data scientist behind the creation of the Republican National Committee’s Voter Scoring system, building the target selection system and most of the metrics and prediction systems that became the backbone of the GOP’s 2014 data resurgence. During the 2016 cycle, he redesigned the modeling system from scratch and massively increased its scale and speed, turning it into the largest microtargeting effort ever attempted and producing 51 billion predictions.
His RNC work won the 2015 Reed Award for “Best Use of New Technology” and the 2015 and 2017 Gold Pollie Awards for “Best Use of Analytics,” and his work for McConnell for Senate also won the 2015 Bronze Pollie Award in the same category. He previously served as Chief Data Scientist at TargetPoint Consulting and Principal at MRK Strategic.
When not working to elect Republicans, Matt is an amateur chef and board game player.
AAPC: What’s next for you this year?
Matt: Every campaign brings a new set of opportunities and challenges, so I’m excited to see what campaigns I’ll be working on in the coming cycle. But product-wise, I’m most excited to continue to build out WPAi’s Guided Modeling Platform to continue to produce models that are better, faster, and cheaper. Another thing I’m excited about is continuing to operationalize ideas about how to use analytics to tackle issues of identity politics. People these days so often vote on loyalty, offense, wounded or flattered pride, negative partisanship, and so many other non-issue subjects. Its time analytics caught up.
AAPC: Tell us about something you’re most proud of accomplishing in your professional career.
Matt: My role in designing the RNC Voter Scoring system and creating all the scores in 14 and 16. Beyond cranking out a lot of numbers, I’m proud of the systems that we built and the techniques we created to use all the data that existing paradigms didn’t account for having. This investment by the party really puts candidates up and down the ballot at a huge advantage, especially while the DNC is charging a lot for a product they haven’t sufficiently invested in. Also, relatedly, I projected Trump would win Michigan, so there’s that.
AAPC: To what do you credit your success at such a young age?
Matt: Hah, I’m an old man at 35. This really is an industry where if you hustle, work hard, and meet the right people, you can rise high early. I’m amazed at what some people have accomplished by 30 or even 25. I did the unconventional thing of being the weird nerd with the grad degrees and too many ideas, but most people succeed by finding a mentor and sticking with them, or just killing it at a series of increasingly-important jobs.
AAPC: What advice would you give to a young professional who has their eye on being a future 40 Under 40 Award winner?
Matt: Find a job where you can grow. Know the players, their incentives, and their history.
Know that an idea is only as good as people’s willingness to actually do it.
And, don’t believe propaganda; your own, or the other side’s. Understand how the psychology works and you’ll be better off professionally and emotionally. Persuasion is subconscious, so getting caught up in it makes it hard to gauge what works versus what works on you. Don’t be the person more useful in the focus group than running it.
AAPC: What’s the most positive development in political campaigns since you started your career?
Matt: To no one’s surprise, the data and analytics guy says “the growth of data and analytics.” We have a ways to go on smaller campaigns. Those of us who develop analytics solutions must make them as relevant and scalable to small campaigns as they are to large campaigns. But on large campaigns, it is becoming the backbone of decision making. It used to be that we had to constantly make the case for our existence, as distinct from polling and digital. Now not so much. At least it’s been a long time since I’ve had to say, “No, I’m not IT and I don’t know how to fix your computer.” So that’s progress.
Read the full interview here.