Garrett Archer teaches us how to be nice
Arizona's data guru built a following by sharing numbers and helping people analyze them, all in the name of improving data literacy.
Below, you’ll find our conversation with Garrett Archer. Instead of a podcast this afternoon, we’re going to do another Twitter Spaces, this time with Garrett as our guest. Come join us as we shoot the breeze and answer your questions! We’ll launch from Rachel’s Twitter account at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon using this link. You can also, as always, leave comments and questions on this post on Substack, too.
Garrett Archer formed an election catchphrase (Maricopa incoming!), debunked a host of ballot lies and created a go-to Arizona Twitter account.
He jumped from the inside — where he worked as a political operative, largely for Republican clients — to the outside, where he now works as an analyst at ABC15 in Phoenix.
And he does it all while staying mostly nice to trolls and posting photos of his cute baby.
His pre-elections, pre-journalism work included stints with U.S. Rep. David Schweikert’s office, the Arizona Republican Party, the California Republican Party and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign. He learned to use data to aid campaigns, fashioning himself as a “data guru” who knew how to find out more about voters and target them with messages.
He then moved to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office under Michele Reagan. He’s moved away from partisan positions over time, but his background working with Republicans helped him build relationships that help him as a journalist.
“Am I accused of being a liberal activist on Twitter? Six times a week, most of the time. But it's my trolls, and that kind of stuff doesn't bother me. But the people that do know me know that I don't advocate for any side,” he said.
We caught up with Garrett this week to talk about elections, journalism, politics and what it’s like to have a big platform online. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The last time we did a Q&A with you was in 2016. It was memorable to me because you specifically put on your glasses. They were yellow, like Blue Blockers or something. Back then, you were working on Republican campaigns. What has happened since then?
I mean, a lot has happened since then. That was actually my last private consulting gig. After that, I joined the Secretary of State's office and became their data analyst and worked with them on the 2016 general election and the 2018 election, both primary and general. I learned the ins and outs of election administration at the state and county level as much as I could. And I just really dove into the administrative and government side of things, when it came to elections, kind of stepped away from campaigning, stepped away from politics and went right into the administration side.
And I was planning on going back into sort of private consulting, and I got a call from the news director at ABC15 at the time, Mark Casey, who said, I see you're not working at Secretary of State anymore, and I want to know if you'd be willing to experiment with me on bringing you in as an analyst at ABC15. And I had never thought about doing anything like that before because I did not go to journalism school, and it was not on my radar. But it was very intriguing. How often does a news director or someone contact you out of the blue on LinkedIn and basically offer you a job in an industry that you don't really know? I mean, I obviously have a lot of reporter friends. It was very intriguing at the time and so I took the offer, and I've been here since. I was in the office for about seven months, assisting our political reporter and assisting other reporters on their stories and doing data for them. And then COVID happened. We all went our separate ways and worked remotely. And it became obvious that COVID was going to be such a data-driven operation, that it just became a permanent beat.
Then it became very obvious very quickly that the 2020 election would be thrown into chaos, and that again became sort of my beat, if you will. After that, I was debunking a lot of the stuff that came out of the audit. It's not very hard to debunk these guys. I only had about a year and a half of knowledge from an election administration standpoint.
And now we're here today, coming up on another set of elections, and the 2020 election, did it ever get resolved? I sure hope so. But we've got another election staring us in the face just a couple of months anyway.
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You seem to respond kindly to people on Twitter who have really, I don't want to say bad ideas, but just bad analysis. Does that work? Like are you convincing people that they're incorrect?
Early on, I was very dismissive of people and the way that they were giving out these ridiculous claims. And I actually had a conversation with a friend of mine from back in Los Angeles, and she said, “I know you're an expert at this, but you need to understand that most of us are not experts on this and it's not just the person you're talking to. It's everyone else that is watching your feed. And when they see you be dismissive, that's going to turn people off.” And that's a very good point. And so I did my best to change my tack and make sure that I do approach everybody with a respectful nature, even people that are making wildly outrageous claims. Now, granted, there are a couple people, like the Jovan Pulitzers of the world, they're so far gone — they're obviously profiting off of their claims on the election. But other people, even if they do believe that the election was fraudulent, and they need to be corrected, what I do is I try to come at them in a respectful way that keeps the conversation going.
But it also means that the other people that are watching the thread, maybe there's someone out there, that is middle road, doesn't really know what happened, questions the election, but doesn't really trust either side. Maybe they say, “You know, this guy is a really respectful guy. He's just putting up his facts and statistics. He doesn't seem like he's pushing an agenda. So, I'm going to maybe put a little bit more stock into what he's saying.” Rather than just dismiss it as someone who's a political adversary, which we do so often do nowadays.
That's a good point about the other people who might be tuning in. I wonder though, have you ever directly convinced somebody on Twitter by talking to them?
There have been times where I have gotten a DM through from just a random account. A lot of times someone that has 10 or 15 followers says, “Hey, I just want you to know I really appreciate your analysis. I appreciate the way you do this.” Not many people will actually tell me, “Oh, you have convinced me otherwise.” In fact, I don't think I've gotten that. I try to make sure that everybody understands that there's always nuance in the data. Some of the statistics that are cited by people who say that the election was stolen, the statistics themselves are not necessarily incorrect. They're just being interpreted incorrectly.
What do you think reporters could learn from working on the dark side? Like, I've always been curious how campaigns work from an inside perspective, and I'll never really know that unless I leave reporting. I wonder if there are things that other reporters don't know that really aid you in your ability to be a reporter.
Well, campaigns are a business. They're a small business. You have to think of a campaign as something that is building a $1 million or $2 million or $3 million business in the span of six months to a year and then closing it all down. It can be chaotic, but it has a structure. I think what reporters get wrong sometimes in our assumptions about campaigns, a lot of it has to do with campaign donations. People put too much stock in influence that some people might have on certain candidates. Now I’m not saying that doesn't happen. But a $2,500 check for a candidate, that's not going to sway anybody. So when people look at these wealthy donors, and they say, oh, this person is beholden to this person, because they donated $2,500 — I think reporters tend to give too much emphasis to that portion of campaigning. It's way simpler than that — it really is.
Conversely, you're not a cub reporter anymore. You've been at this for a number of years. What do you know now about the press that the consulting class gets wrong or doesn't understand about how we work?
I can tell you unequivocally that I've been here for several years now, and there has not been one time that I've been pushed in a direction to cover something. That does not happen. At least not here. We don't sit around in our editorial meetings in the morning trying to figure out how we can give bad coverage to a certain candidate. And on top of this, well, we don't have time to do anything. I mean, we are so crushed. I don't have time to narrate a story a certain way. They think we're sitting there trying to figure out how to mess with them. That's just incorrect. There's just no time.
Another thing I've noticed is I get almost no communication anymore from Republicans. They just think that the news doesn't cover them, but I'm never given anything to cover. So what am I supposed to do? I get press releases from left-leaning organizations constantly. You see the coverage on TV, and it might be just something that we're covering because someone said “Hey, we have a press conference.” If you want to be covered, you have to tell us you're doing something.
And I was terrified of reporters back in 2014 to 2016. You guys scared the heck out of me. Talking to a reporter can be nerve-racking, and if I knew that there was a reporter snooping around or calling us, it was terrifying. But that was just me as a younger partisan. Once I got to know reporters – they're just doing their job. And their job is to ask these questions. If you answer the question, you have the ability to at least shape the story. If you don't talk to them at all, you have no ability to shape what they're saying. Some candidates are fine with making the media out to be just the bad guy at all times because it works with their base and that's part of the strategy. They have no business or have no desire, or reason, really, to answer questions from the media, because it plays into their campaign strategy.
Last time we talked, you didn’t have the 61,000 Twitter followers that you do now, paying attention to your every tweet. How do you manage having that level of feedback?
Back when I was working for the Secretary State's Office, I tried to reply to every single person and I was largely successful. I can't do that anymore. But during slow times, it's manageable. During the election, it's a hurricane. I don't look at replies or don't even attempt to reply at that point because they become so fast and furious.
Do you ever worry about your safety because of the online discourse? I notice you post pictures of your kid, which a lot of female journalists don’t do anymore.
Unequivocally, female journalists have it much harder online. But yes, there were a couple times during the audit in which I could point to things getting very uncomfortable. But it was very few and far between. I have pretty thick skin. I'm a second child. But I think this goes back to what we were talking about before: I'm nice to everybody. Eventually, I'm gonna stop posting baby pics. Once he's a toddler and he starts to form human features that are outside of baby features, I'll probably stop posting. But he's sort of nondescript at this point.
But there's a guy who posts, I'm not gonna say who it is, but he’s firmly in the Donald-Trump-won-the-election camp. He never replies to my election tweets. But when it comes to the baby stuff, he always has something nice to say. It just shows that like yeah, you and I are not you are not going to agree on this, obviously, because this guy's an influencer on that side. But at least we can have a civil dialogue at some point because he likes my baby’s pictures.
You've done campaign work, election administration, and then joined the media as an election data geek, moved into a COVID, now back into election stuff. What’s next? Are there other lanes that you see yourself getting into as a reporter?
I'm learning a lot right now, now that COVID is over. I'm doing stuff that I would not have done before. I just finished a piece using data from the Interagency Fire Center. I'm doing stuff with police data now that I wasn't doing before. So I'm expanding into areas that I have not done. In the past, I've been very focused on elections and COVID. And now I'm starting to move into other directions. I'd like to be an expert in all these little topics that we deal with so much, like crime, like wildfires, all this stuff that comes up all the time. It’s cyclical for me. And so becoming a little expert on these things and learning how to use them is going to be helpful.