Who’s mining the polls?big data and the 2016 presidential campaigns

If you doubt that Big Brother is watching, open your eyes wider.

Big data is getting bigger.
Thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and apps, there is more accessible personal information about you than ever—from your browsing preferences to your location at any given time. Retailers know when you’re close enough to be lured in. Facebook divulges enough information about you to create an unauthorized biography.

With the 2016 presidential campaign in full swing, big data is driving the campaign strategy bus.

Politicians—even the old-school ones—recognize that they need to leverage the power of all data science in order to exert the right influence on the right voters at the right time. They use the data to predict voter turnout, and which voters might be switching sides.
According to an Obama campaign official right after the 2012 election, “We ran the election 66,000 times every night”, using computer simulation to determine the President’s odds of winning specific states.
Big data also influenced the campaign’s decision to run ads on such unconventional television programs as “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Walking Dead”.

Barack Obama used big data to win re-election.

His 2012 presidential campaign’s data mining determined that the most actionable statistic was the descending unemployment rate. He promoted the economic improvement that occurred during his first term as he asked for a vote of confidence to keep the work going. Coupled with unprecedented get-out-the-vote social media campaign, Obama reached and influenced the voters he needed for re-election.
Obama’s data scientists made pioneering innovations on applying big data to politics. They learned through testing what the optimal sum was when requesting a donation,” said Kenneth Cukier, data editor of The Economist and co-author of “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think”.
They micro-target down to subgroups of the population that were otherwise not picked up by campaigns in the past, because it was hard to get granular information on those groups and what moved them to vote a certain way. As a result, campaigns try to tailor their activities down the seemingly ‘individual’ level—not broad, lumpy categories like the ‘soccer moms’ used in Clinton’s campaigns in the 1990’s.”
Campaign managers and media strategists are digging deeply into online data, including Facebook, provided by their staffs of data scientists (a role that has grown from an option to a necessity).
Millions of dollars will be spent to accumulate and analyze:

  • mobile geolocation
  • browsing preferences
  • and social data

all with the goal of developing micro-targeted campaigns at highly narrowed segments. Facebook, alone, feeds presidential campaigns more than 10 billion posts, likes, and shares each month.
ZDNet’s David Gewirtz explained that big data’s insights have broadened in every realm. “What you buy, what you read, what you share online, who you associate with, what your mood is, where you work, what you do, what your health situation is, where you’ve donated, what clothing styles you like, what car models you buy, your favorite cola brand, your favorite phone brand—all of that information is available to those with the budget to buy it and the algorithms to aggregate and sift through it. This is where big data is changing the face of American election politics.”
No longer are psychographic categories like “soccer mom”, “empty-nester”, and “up-and-comer” enough to satisfy the presidential candidates and their teams. That’s too broad. They’re digging deeper, finding narrow segments, like nests of liberals within a conservative community.
They’ll find you, because they’re actively seeking you. Right now, they’re shaping their message to influence your vote. They’re determining how much to spend on advertising that message, and where, so that they can connect with you.
With so much voter data being mined, it begs the question, are they practicing safe searching? It seems that a political data mine would be a tempting target for a data breach.
But that’s a topic for another day. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @LTronCorp.