Big Data Meets U.S. Politics

Big Data Meets U.S. Politics


The rise of big data analytics hasn’t been overlooked by all politicians; Barack Obama was one of the first candidates to employ new data technologies during his 2008 run, a strategic move that tends to be highlighted when people explain his unlikely surge to victory.

Despite Obama’s success, some candidates and super PACS still haven’t embracedobama big data analytics, and there’s no clear stand-out among US presidential hopefuls who is jumping on the opportunity. No candidate, that is, other than Donald Trump.

So let’s rewind; how did Obama use analytics to move forward in the election? His campaign analyzed voter sentiment to generate helpful recommendations to the team handling Obama’s social media accounts and to Obama’s speech writer. Their sophisticated data platform, codenamed “Narwhal”, allowed Obama to be more likely to predict what his candidate was going to say and made him more capable of tailoring his speeches to what the public wanted to hear. It also enabled customized email fundraising and better identification of likely voters.

And this wasn’t just his 2008 campaign; his reelection campaign famously cost a fraction of Romney’s campaign and rescued him despite polls showing his loss of favor.

“Part of the reason for the Obama victory was the campaign’s ability to mobilize the vote, and it used a lot of data to do that,” explains Alex Black, ┬áthe leader of CSC’s Enterprise Intelligence Practice. “They developed models predicting who was most likely to vote and then targeted follow-up events at those people.”

CSC’s director of Business Analytics Gary Jackson agreed: “The Obama campaign proved the power of big data… The Obama big data team sought out those who were already advocates and did matchmaking using what CSC calls ‘affinity ratios’- linking people with the same life-style and life-stage details with people in their social circles to drive action. We believe that customer behavior changes only when influenced by other human beings- social circles- or by being compared to people like them.”

trump2How do they collect this data? Companies like RadiumOne create big data algorithms that allow advertisers and political managers to better target consumers online based on their social interactions across the web and on Facebook.

Back to Trump: Like Obama, Trump has spent a fraction of the money that other campaigners have, and yet receives way more media attention and cannot go a day without being in the headline of a front-page article of some major media outlet. He always responds directly and personally in the event of a scandal or issue and he has harnessed the force of the ignorant, fearful America most of us coastal dwellers try to look away from. Where does his success come from?

To some extent Trump is a master manipulator with a talent for understanding where emotional forces like fear can be tapped in a group of people. However, it can be assumed he has his hands in big data analytics as well. He certainly doesn’t waste time reaching out to voters who aren’t interested in him; he just keeps striking a chord with a certain kind of American voter we’d all rather not think about.

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