How Big Data Will Play a Role in the 2016 Election

How Big Data Will Play a Role in the 2016 ElectionMost businesses with successful marketing programs understand how important big data is for attracting and retaining a customer base. Consumers know what this means – Google something, and suddenly you get an ad for that item following you around the internet. Savvy businesses know exactly how to market future customers based on past behavior. What many people may not consider is how big data plays a role in politics. With a heated presidential race underway, next month, big data is playing a larger role in politics. Just as big data is used to market a business, it can be used to “market” a politician’s campaign.

Unprecedented Targeting Opportunities

As H.O. Maycotte recently opined in this Forbes article:

“Companies and campaigns alike have to figure out how to generate enough data for effective analysis, how to unify data from multiple sources and how to apply analytics and predictive analytics to it for the best results – all while dealing with privacy concerns. If they can surmount the challenges, they enjoy unprecedented opportunities to target and personalize communications to reach people more effectively and to operate more efficiently.”

While old-school methods like TV or newspaper advertising are still staples of any political campaign, targeted messaging through data-driven insights is increasingly more important. In fact, many credit big data for President Barack Obama’s presidential wins in 2008 and 2012.

Political campaigns rely on third-party experts to gather and crunch data for them. Social media has evolved as a comfortable place for campaigns to sharpen their message toward a target audience. According to Issie Lapowsky of Wired, Cambridge Analytica, which employs data scientists and psychologists, draws on personality surveys conducted by telephone, email, and social media. Since 2013, Cambridge Analytica uses those samples to predict the personality traits of voters—traits like, neuroticism, which can negatively impact a campaign. Candidates can use those findings to tailor their message to a specific audience and shift perceptions in order to expand their following.

So, what political data benefits does social media pose for candidates?

First and foremost, most official social media business pages are free.  Not to mention the billions of people on the world’s largest social media platforms – all day, every day. The best way to reach voters is by sharing various talking points via social media. Most social media platforms mine the necessary data points to target posts to people based on their demographics, purchasing behavior, interests and lifestyle. Campaign managers have all this information for tailoring a promoted post at their fingertips. In addition, if a post is not promoted, a campaign can reach more undecided voters than ever before through organic reach.


New Fundraising Strategies

Fundraising is also an important part of a campaign, particularly if someone is running for president. Since 2012, fundraising through email has been particularly important to political campaigns. Building a database of email addresses can take years of work. In 2016, campaign managers are looking for newer, faster ways to raise funds and collect email addresses.

According to a recent article in The Economic Times, some political campaign consulting firms have as many as 1,500 data points about voters to allow them to make dozens of “voter models” to target the individuals who would be most persuadable based on those data points.

While privacy is an issue, much of the information that makes these databases possible is available from voter registration records. When combined with information users provide on social media, campaign managers can create sophisticated databases to help them craft their message. Using Facebook “likes, comments and shares,”(aka soft engagement rates) allows campaign managers the ability to determine how an individual feels about a subject and potentially persuade their decision to make campaign contribution.

Interestingly, thus far in the 2016 presidential campaign, the two primary parties are using data in very different ways. According to Phillip Ross from Socialbakers, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has a larger social media following and more people share information he has posted, especially on Twitter. Whether this is intentional or based solely on the candidate’s colorful use of the platform, the Trump campaign has a much higher engagement rate than his opposition, which could be leveraged even more as Election Day nears.

On the other hand, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has a much larger database for fundraising and has been leveraging that far more effectively than her opponent. In fact, her campaign has been recognized for having data on undecided voters across the country, allowing the campaign to target undecided voters in each state specifically.

In the end, both campaigns will use data-driven insights in some form or another, whether with purposeful intent of targeted messaging or tapping into new fundraising strategies. How they use the data will certainly add to the growing work of marketing teams utilizing this information to influence voter perceptions and behavior.