This year, we’ve witnessed the value and the power of Big Data in politics. We’ve seen the phenomenon throughout the last few weeks, from Nate Silver, to the failure of Orca – through it all the story being told is that Obama’s data was better than Mitt’s. A story in the Washington Post today indicates that the Democrats are looking to maintain that edge in the near future.
Democrats are now pressing to expand and redeploy the most sophisticated voter list in American political history, beginning with next year’s gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and extending to campaigns for years to come. The prospect already has some Republicans worried.
The Obama campaign famously used big data to mount an information campaign that was lodged in to many data points, including Twitter, Facebook, web apps and other social channels. By gauging sentiment about candidates and correlating this information with troves of voter demographic data, the operation was able to deliver on its mission to get people out to vote. Every facet of the campaign was in some way, shape or form – driven by the data. Now the party is looking at bringing this same data and operations back to assist them in upcoming races.
There are a couple of issues with that. First off, there is a factor where people may be burned out on politics – non-presidential elections historically have a significant drop-off in raw vote totals. Could Big Data overcome that tendency? Perhaps, but another factor to consider is the amount of data that is available will likely drop. Will people be talking about a local election as much? Probably not. Recall that the Big Data proposition is a real-time operation, the value of static data from the last few months will naturally fade and get stale, due to many reasons but you could be looking at natural voter burn-out, changing issues and the realities of a different type of race, different candidates, and issues altogether. It could be tricky to make the effort focus on local.
Re-tooling this operation for further utilization for other political races will not be as easy as turning the systems back on and plug in a new name. There are dozens and dozens of engineers to consider as well as other factors in such a fundamental re-engineering of the program. Granted, there is a lot of valuable information to be had and a potential edge, but such an operation requires major funding that may not be so easily accessible. As I mentioned recently, the Republican Party is sure to mount their own data efforts, starting now. The Democrats are surely going to roll on and build on their past success. Big Data is the new face of American Politics, but the question is whether it is ready for the non-presidential level. We will keep watching for signs of the execution of a re-focused data operation until the next presidential election, where Big Data will surely be front and center from the get-go.