• October 26, 2016

Hail to the Chief: How Big Data Shapes Elections

Analytic insights have become key players in presidential campaigns.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Americans will head to the polls to elect the 45th President of the United States. No matter which candidate wins, you should understand the considerable role that Big Data and analytics have in U.S. politics. In today’s data-driven world, analytic insights may be key to winning increasingly difficult elections.

Four More Years: A Look Back at the 2012 Election

The story actually begins in 2012, when President Barack Obama faced off against Mitt Romney in his bid for reelection. At the time, Obama had a team of 100 analytics professionals on hand to make sense of terabytes’ worth of electorate data in an effort to gain a competitive advantage. Though it wasn’t the first time Big Data and analytics had played a role in an election (the 2004 and 2008 elections laid the foundation), it was certainly the most dramatic example up to that point.

Specifically, the Obama team used data modeling techniques to try to understand voters on an individual level and how the campaign’s actions affected those voters. The campaign put this information to good use, employing it to do everything from driving people to register to vote, to targeting personalized communications based on voters’ unique interests, to identifying the optimal timing and placements for campaign ads.

2012 was also the year that then-New York Times blogger Nate Silver garnered a lot of attention for himself by using statistical modeling to accurately predict the results of the election in every state as well as the District of Columbia. It was basically the second time he had done so (he called 49 out of 50 states correctly in 2008), casting a spotlight on the role that analytics could have on successfully predicting election results in the process.

Clinton vs. Trump: In Data We Trust

Fast-forward to 2016 and we’re also seeing the importance of Big Data and analytics skyrocket in this year’s election. At least that’s the case for the Clinton campaign, which has used data-driven insights to help determine everything from the choice of Tim Kaine as running mate, to key messages delivered at the Democratic National Convention in an attempt to win over disaffected Republican and moderate voters. Clinton has also hired an impressive roster of data scientists to help inform each of these decisions.

Interestingly, the Trump campaign doesn’t appear to have embraced Big Data and analytics in nearly the same way, with no major hires from the analytics industry and an approach that seems to instead rely on getting the candidate exposure via social media and cable television.

With the election drawing to a close, it will be interesting to see whose strategy comes out on top.

Like this story? Learn more about the industries where Big Data is making a difference and how you can operationalize the power of analytics for your enterprise.