Big-Data Analytics Plays Big Role in 2016 Election Campaigns
One GOP strategist says its analysts have about 400 data points stored for the average American voter and are querying the database constantly for insight.SAN FRANCISCO—Assessing the voting public's mood swings, likes and dislikes to win an election has been a top-line task for political campaigns in the United States for most of its 240 years of existence. But only in the last decade have the internet, social networks and real-time analysis of big data collected from all corners of the country played a central role in helping sway voters to determine the leader of the nation and of the Free World. The John Kerry-John Edwards campaign in 2004 made extensive use of direct email to likely Democratic voters in its losing cause. However, President Barack Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012 took political connectivity to a whole new level, making extensive deployment of multiple daily emails, targeted webvertising, social networks and conventional television and radio ads to attract likely voters. In unprecedented fashion, the team then continued fundraising throughout Obama's eight years in office, even after both campaigns had ended. 2012 Campaign Set High Bar for Performance
As history has noted, the last two campaigns were highly successful, setting a high bar of performance for all others to come.
"Well, that's a challenge. This is a common complaint from campaign hacks like ourselves," Cutter said at OpenWorld. "There are so many flawed public polls with such wide shifts out there that it's a challenge to not let them distract you. Some look at regular voters, some look at likely voters, some use only phones, some combine it with digital polling. Some of their base assumptions about who's going to turn out for the election are flawed. "The most recent example was in the (Mitt) Romney campaign, where they were thinking that the 2010 electorate (which voted heavily Republican in Congressional races) would show up for the election instead of the 2008 electorate. And once you make a flawed assumption from the start about who's going to show up (to vote), everything else falls off." Both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns revolutionized how data analytics did predictive modeling of how people were likely to vote and help team leaders determine who within the neighborhoods were good potential persuaders of their neighbors, Cutter said. "By 2012, the Republicans had just about caught up (with the Democrats' systems)," Cutter said. "We didn't rely on one piece of data, ever. We were doing 9,000 calls a night into the battleground states for a base track we were modeling and predicting. We had a database we kept updating and refreshing; not all campaigns can do this. By June (2012), we knew we had a 70 percent chance of winning." Why Telephone Polls Can't Be Trusted Anymore Murphy, who ran Jeb Bush's 2016 campaign (Bush dropped out of the race in February), said that he simply doesn't trust phone-call data anymore. "We don't trust pure telephone calling anymore because we have so much more data we can collect," Murphy said. "We now capture everything; we have about 400 data points on the average American voter. We now have a legitimate computing model, thanks to Oracle and others. "If you look at it objectively, a poll is one of the few stories where the media will create the story and then report on it." Cutter said that "there's definitely a shift happening in how people predict how the elections will turn out. You can't get somebody on the telephones anymore, particularly millennials who aren't picking up the phone or who don't have a home phone. There's a reason why Hillary Clinton is up 10 (points) one day and the next day is down four." GOP Had Analytics Lab in Silicon Valley in 2012 Murphy, who has worked on both Bush campaigns and others for Meg Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even several international campaigns, told eWEEK after the 90-minute session ended that during the 2012 Romney campaign, he started up his own semi-secret research company in Redwood City, California, to do big data voter analysis for that election. "We got a little office there near the seaport, and I hired about 10 developers from around here to just work on big data analytics for that campaign. We learned a lot from that experience."