Opinion: How Big Data Can Change the Game – Big Data Propels Obama to Re-election

As the election buzz about how Obama won the election in the most horific economic conditions any incubant has ever seen, many want to know why.  America has yelling for years and Barack extracted that signal from the noise using big data to “listen”.  He aligned his message to those who were speaking to him.

On election day America spoke and Barack Obama has won re-election. One key element of Obama’s victory that cannot be overlooked: Big Data.

Its influence on this election has been poorly documented but it played a huge role in returning Obama to the White House. CNN, Fox and the networks completely missed the Big Data/Silicon Valley angle.  I’ve been saying Big Data can disrupt all industries and here it has disrupted the election.  It literally put Obama over the top.  It was that close.  Romney just got out played in the big data listening game.  Just ask Nate Silver.  Enough said there.

I have been closely following the election. We had two capable candidates. Romney offered a strong fiscal policy. Obama’s social agenda was spot on. The  Republicans, however, are “completely out to lunch” on the pulse of America, unable to fully understand the diversity of the country and the demographic make-up of today’s voters.

If Steve Jobs were alive he may have volunteered to help Obama promote his campaign.  Well he was there in spirit because it was, Jobs’ iPhone that did help.  Smartphones, social media, big data and predictive analytics all played a key role in Obama’s re-election bid, serving as a parallel “ground game” to the traditional “knocking on doors” ground game.

In the summer of 2011, I met with Rayid Ghani, the chief scientist of Obama’s campaign. Rayid was formerly with Accenture Technology Labs in Chicago.  It was Rayid’s job to capture the “data firehose” and work with  other “alpha geeks” to develop the algorithms that fully aligned Obama’s messages to shifting voter sentiment.  The messages were then shared in real-time across social media, Twitter, text messaging and email. Rayid and his team, including volunteers from Google, LinkedIn and other start-ups in Silicon valley, collected massive amounts of voter data and were able to respond to concerns almost instantly.  Without this big data effort, I’m not sure Obama wins re-election.

America is about hope and growth. This is why many found Romney’s fiscal policies so attractive. But it is Obama that speaks to the heart of the upward mobility aspirations of hard working Americans, including entrepreneurs, wanna-be entrepreneurs, and immigrants who want to start their own business and contribute to society.  This is the new middle class that Obama speaks to. They represent new opportunities and new growth – mirroring the country’s new demographics. It is not the old guard.

Today’s tech culture has shifted the game in terms of voting and politics. There’s a whole new generation of people coming into the electorate who are young and have a definite perspective about what the future should look like. It’s more inclusive and globally oriented. 
They don’t take their cues from Big Media. They use their smartphones, Twitter, Facebook and other social media to help understand what is most important to them. They use these same tools to spread their message even further. The Obama campaign understood this. The Romney campaign did not.

Using Big Data, the Obama campaign could understand real-time sentiment across targeted groups and respond almost instantly with a message that could be quickly received and spread instantly to their friends and family using these same tools. This is not spam. These were well crafted messages that people wanted to receive. Big Data allowed the campaign to clue into sentiment right away, craft the right message and respond.

The Obama campaign was not using social media simply to get out their message but using social media to help create signals, align those signals with the voters, and then mobilize those who received their signals. This is much more than texting a person urging them to vote or asking them for money. Those are important but this new big data “listening” effort was more about synthesizing cultural sentiment.  Mobilizing people, connecting with everyone, giving everyone a voice, and helping spread their message.

The days when old media and traditional gatekeepers can define the issues are over. Campaigns now need to look at Twitter, Facebook and crowd behavior to understand the pulse of the electorate. When the book is written on this election it’s going to be written how big data, Internet culture, and mobile phones enabled people to share their opinions, give everyone a voice and connect with one another.

Obama understood big data and this new generation of voter, Romney did not.  Silicon Valley and even credit to the “crazy ones” like Steve Jobs were essential in helping Obama win re-election.

Here is my video of my comments on the subject on SiliconANGLE.TV NewsDesk

 
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About John Furrier

Founder and CEO of SiliconAngle.com.