The importance of changing technology in a presidential election may have first been emphasized by the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960, where the new medium of television contrasted Nixon’s lackluster appearance with Kennedy’s youth and vigor, potentially tilting the election in favor of the senator from Massachusetts. Candidates have often tried to employ the most cutting edge technology they can to reach voters, especially young ones (though their efforts can quickly look outdated and clunky—check out this Dole-Kemp site from 1996, when scrolling text and dancing icons were internet staples).
In recent years data has become increasingly central to political campaigning and the fortunes of the Republicans and Democrats. The email list curated over 18 months by the 2012 Romney campaign proved to be a treasure trove of data for the GOP. It was deployed to great effect in the 2014 midterm elections and less successfully in 2016 to support Jeb Bush’s campaign. The Democrats have also beefed up their data efforts in recent years. In 2010 for example, the DNC hired Dan Wagner as their National Targeting Director, tasked with using data to power the Democrats to success in the 2010 election cycle. Wagner built statistical models for a number of congressional races and predicted their outcomes with surprising accuracy. His predictions were off by an average of only 2.5%.
Obama and Analytics
In 2008, Barack Obama’s team harnessed the power of Big Data, building a grassroots organization that used data mining techniques to comb potential voters’ social media feeds to understand the issues that were important to them. The strategy worked—voter turnout was up 5 million in 2008, with a 2% increase in the coveted 18-to-24-year-old demographic. In 2012, Dan Wagner was promoted in to become the Obama campaigns Chief Analytics Officer as Obama – and the democrats – continued to embrace data. This year’s candidates on both sides are hoping to replicate that rise in November. CRN reports that through the end of January, the 22 current and former 2016 candidates have spent $3.69 million on 67 “solution providers” such as IT, web, and analytics firms that help them gather data on how their speeches, advertising, and videos resonate with potential voters.
Cruz and Analytics
Donald Trump may be ahead in the Republican polls after a big Super Tuesday finish, but Ted Cruz leads him in mobilization of big data. According to the Associated Press, Cruz’s mobile app aggressively collects detailed information about its users through their phones, including mining their contacts and even tracking their physical movements through the phone’s GPS. The information becomes part of his massive database, which keeps details about nearly every adult in the United States in order to target individual voters with often scarily accurate results. According to Datanami, as of December the Cruz campaign has spent $3 million on services from the UK analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which has provided the campaign with two on-site data scientists for around the clock analytics results.
The Republican Data Machine
The Koch brothers – high-profile Republican donors – have spent millions of dollars in developing the premier political data service company in the US today. I360 – as the company is known – has spent over $50 million in cash over the last four years linking voter information, consumer data, social data and more to develop sophisticated profiles and models for electoral behavior. Republican campaigns nationwide are eagerly paying for this data to give them a leg up in their campaigns.
And the focus on Big Data isn’t limited to the candidates. SAP SE announced this week that they will be partnering with Reuters to give journalists data-driven tools for covering the presidential election, including access to SAP’s Lumira software, which can be used to easily visualize election data. “Digital technologies are transforming politics and elections and turning American voters into digital voters,” said Jennifer Morgan, president of SAP North America, according to Database. “Having access to real-time, data-driven information and public sentiment not only enables journalists to create engaging and compelling content but also empowers consumers and citizens with unique insights into the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the state of world affairs more broadly.”