Obama’s Big Data Play


When the dust settles and the smoke clears, and the elections of 2012 are over there will be victors and there will be losers.  Rest assured that until then, each side will try to gain every edge possible; whether that edge is in technology, media, or whatever else that is a certainty as is always the case in politics.  In a recent Politico article, the digital operations of the Obama campaign is visited.  The shock line is instantly found as the article opens:

“On the sixth floor of a sleek office building here (..Chicago), more than 150 techies are quietly peeling back the layers of your life. They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election.”

This type of information gathering is not all that shocking however, as consumers of tech devices; we have accepted a certain level of privacy and trust in compromise with all this technology has to offer.  The article references examples where the campaign is on a mission to utilize data and technology in the realms of mobile, apps, social media strategies, and Data Mining.  There’s no denying the fact that the campaign has a huge advantage and leg up against all others in terms of experience, funding, and alliances and that the Republican side has a gap to close in those regards.  The article also states that current campaign is poised to go far beyond its own achievements only four years ago.

A History of Technology and Politics

Technology and politics have worked together for years.  Obvious current-day examples include polling results, real time exit polls, computerized balloting, just to name a few.  If you go back further into history, examples are everywhere, such as when Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his fireside chats.  Think of that time before any televised debates took place, that one technology change permanently changed how races are run.  The development and availability of C-SPAN marks another groundbreaking embrace of technology.  A recent development approved text message-based campaign donations.  Today’s political technology wave is comprised of newfound strategic efforts that fully encompass the principles of data and analytics throughout all levels of political campaign.  This means that technology elements enter into significant campaign evaluations and decisions at every turn.

Strategy and Goals

The big question is to what ends this all will make a difference, particularly in the current political climate.  It could be an edge, and it could be overwhelming, or it could mean not much to the bottom line.  The obvious ultimate goal for one campaign interest would be re-election, but there are other goals where the value of data is very critical.  For example this could be applied to the strategic application of resources, money, and focus on specific election districts, some of which are in play this election cycle and others in the future.  The end goal could be to gain those respective votes, but can also extend to fund raising, campaign messaging, or gauging effectiveness of current efforts in the field in real time.

Privacy and the Campaign

This all raises the classic Privacy vs. Data Mining scenario.  Questions arise on what target information is being sought, how it is being collected, and who are the targets.  There are multiple datasets throughout their range of technology that the campaign has put together.  The wealth of information about people in terms of social status, location, economic status, family information, financial information, essentially complete demographics is too meaningful to disregard.  How much is too much, and where are the limits?

Enter Big Data

What we’re seeing is a case study for a Big Data.  There are multiple datasets to draw from; each with a vast depth, richness, context, and variety of information to offer.  How those datasets correlate is where the real value lies.  From the various resources that are available that include the various Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Web Crawling, Social Media campaigning, email campaigns, the best that this information can provide is best served in a unified outcome – and that is an essence of Big Data – bringing together information from varied resources into a resulting body of outcomes that has a targeted value.

Win, Lose, or Draw, the pieces are set in place, and the system is online and running.  There will be an extensive analysis and re-analysis of postmortem data that will take place.  These outcomes of analysis will further set the foundation for politics and campaigns to come.  If you thought constant television campaign ads were intrusive, we are all in for so much more.  While one sides rushes to even the technology advantage, the other side will strive to maintain it.  This particular election season stands to be significant in history not only because of the participants, but to the new levels of technical sophistication that is becoming a permanent part of the political process.