Big data analytics and its role in elections
In an increasingly politically aware world, big data analytics is the “trump” card most organisations and movements have when planning election strategies. With great power comes great responsibility and data analytics is a powerful tool that can be utilised to harness and reap a plethora of benefits.
We are seeing politicians use big data analytics to optimise their campaigns. For example, experts and journalists have coined Trump’s campaign a ‘data machine’ powered by AI capable of swinging voters, demonstrating the power of data and analytics systems.
This is not a new phenomenon, since the 50’s every party has used big data analytics to strategise their election campaigns.
Let us look into some of the big data systems and applications that have allowed countries and groups to manipulate the results in their favour.
The first “big” data break
The idea of using data in elections is not new. For example, the Kennedy administration used the “People Machine” to great success. It was, at the time, the largest such project ever conducted and it involved the use of massive data decades before “big data analytics” became a buzzword.
It was during this time that the use of computer simulation, pattern detection and prediction for election campaigns began. Opinion poll data from the archives of pollsters, George Gallup and Elmo Roper, created a model of the US electorate. The information gathered was pivotal in creating relevant strategies and ensuring those votes were coming in. This was seen even further back in our history when data was collected to better understand the masses.
A little bit of data goes a long way
A British “global election management agency” gained global traction because it utilised advanced data analysis along with strategic communication during electoral processes, which proved to be successful. They started in 2013 as an offshoot of the private intelligence company and self-described “global election management agency”. They were essentially in the big data analytics business.
This company used personal data to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum. But its reach extends well beyond the UK and US having supported more than 100 campaigns across five continents.
These data methods were used twice to help secure victory for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – first in 2013, then again in 2017. Officially, the company’s website boasts of doing in-depth research to uncover the issues driving voters in the country. They rebranded the entire party twice, wrote the manifesto, did research and finalised the messaging. They essentially created the platform, basing it on their findings derived from big data analytics to curate what the masses exactly wanted to see.
Jacinda Ardern – the Prime Minister in New Zealand – utilised big data analytics to bridge the gap between her policies and her voters, which swayed the constituents to her side and secured a second term, highlighting the importance of analytics in both elections and policy-making (although, it should be noted, that the Prime Minister’s aim was to refine her policies).
Big data analytics- A great and powerful tool
If we gauge anything, it is that these big data analytics platforms are mere tools and can be used for so much good, on the flipside of the coin, in a nefarious manner, if we are not cautious.
However, not all campaigns set out to exploit big data analytics platforms, we see politicians utilising such data to know where their possible voters could originate from, cross-reference them with the topics supported by the candidate and use the feedback to refine their policies.
The future of big data analytics in elections
If current trends are any indication, future election campaigns will be further entrenched in data analysis methods so as to glean the best approaches, efforts and results. Data analytics will be used much after the campaigns as well, with it being an integral part of understanding and flagging problems plaguing different population sections.
Data analytics has evolved itself to become the brain of every election campaign since the early 2000s. Data analytics helps the election campaign committee understand the voters better and adapt their policies to their sentiments, demonstrating the versatility of analytics platforms.
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