Political Parties Reap Data Mining Benefits

Using new sophistication in how they collect, clean and manipulate the information in their databases, political parties can predict how voters will vote, and to target voters individually where needed.

WASHINGTON—Both major U.S. political parties entered into a new era in the way they use the information they collect on voters throughout the United States.

Using new levels of sophistication in how they collect, clean and manipulate the information in their massive databases, the parties are able to predict with reasonable accuracy how individual voters will vote when they get to the polls, and to target voters individually where needed.

For example, the new level of sophistication allowed the Democratic National Committee to target specific voters in otherwise solidly Republican districts to get them to the polls on Election Day.

In the past, parties would target localities or districts with voter turnout efforts, which then failed to reach some voters because they lived areas that werent targeted.

While both parties have been doing some measure of voter targeting for the last decade or so, only now have they had the ability to manipulate the vast databases of voter data quickly enough to use it tactically in campaigns.

"One of the things that changed dramatically is the amount of data that people were able to use and have confidence in," said Gus Bickford, president of Factorum Productions in Westford, Mass., a company that consults with political operations and nonprofit groups in how they use databases.

Bickford is also an elected member of the Democratic National Committee in Washington.

It was Bickford who was responsible for bringing the DNC together with Intelligent Integration Systems of Boston, which was in turn responsible for setting up the DNCs database solution in time for the 2006 elections.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about what happens when technology and politics collide.

"The DNC had to change its technology in terms of the size of the data, and in the time you have to work with it in terms of cleaning it and matching it," Bickford said.

"Added to that is the time required for getting it in the field and then getting responses back from the field, and determining the metrics," he said.

Bickford said that one improvement that the DNC made was to move its databases to Netezza, a database appliance thats known for very high speed.

"When youre able to run your queries, the turn around time becomes less with Netezza," Bickford said.

He said that typical questions managers might ask are, "Are these groups the right ones? Are they likely to come out to vote?"

He said that using the voter data in their database, they were able to come up with better answers faster than in the past.

"The DNC is using Netezza to analyze large amounts of data," said Ellen Rubin, vice president of Marketing for Netezza in Framingham, Mass. "Theyre working to get out the vote for the election."

Next Page: Deadline demands.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...