In the coming months and over the next year, several important votes and elections will take place around the world: the presidential elections in the United States this November; the French presidential election in April/May 2017, the French legislative election next June; the German federal election next August, etc. Most of these already have campaigns underway to help sway the opinions and decisions of voting parties, which raises the question—how will the candidates of each party utilize Big Data to help give them a competitive edge.
Forming an Opinion Based on Facts
Ever since the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012, it’s been clear that Big Data has become one of the major weapons in the arsenal of political marketing. Campaign managers have already demonstrated how to wield big data for voter micro-targeting, drastically improving the efficiency of fund-raising, anticipating voter demands and refining their messaging to address those needs, predictive analysis to anticipate how their candidate will perform in the near and long-term, use of social media to extract voter sentiment, etc. Data Scientists have made traditional political campaigns a thing of the past.
Candidates have even gone as far as designing apps that test voters’ knowledge of pressing issues facing the country and future challenges to get them more engaged in the dialogue. At the same time, candidates’ campaigns and political debates are sparking plenty of chatter across all social networks, through which voters can engage in peer-to-peer discussions, which can also help shape their decision on which candidate for which to vote. Choosing the right leader can be a long and difficult process that often requires extensive research and filtering of information from several data sources to verify which candidate actually has the right credentials to lead the country in the right direction.
Using Big Data Tools to Revolutionize Citizen Involvement
The Obama administration introduced the notion of increased government transparency by opening up access to a vast amounts of information in order to shed light on the government's actions. Not only are citizens now able to view information on current and upcoming federal budgets and compare them with previous budgets, but the site goes as far as listing all White House employees’ salaries; information on party donors and more. Besides the goal of having more government transparency—hopefully thereby obtaining greater citizen trust—the premise was to also encourage more citizen involvement with government.
As a result of the very social and open Barrack Obama voting experience in the US, similar tactics are now being employed in France. In anticipation of the Fall right-wing primaries in France (and the left-wing primaries in January 2017), all of the parties and candidates are employing strategies to analyze voter sentiment to inspire marketing, where "the voter is a consumer, and the candidate, is the product."
Moving Beyond Communications
But even beyond communications with the citizens, data scientists at the White House have laid the groundwork for a new way of finding never before seen answers to social and economic problems - based on the analysis of varied data sets. From transportation and infrastructure to the fight against crime or fraud, the positive results achieved thanks to digital tools are helping political leaders eradicate various societal challenges.
Additionally, at a time when polling institutes' projections are increasingly questioned (as was the case with the recent British vote on Brexit), Big Data can provide a more precise and comprehensive view of likely outcomes without representative samples. A project done by Wei Wang of the Columbia University statistics department and Sharad Goel and David Rothschild of Microsoft Research, showed that Big Data tools hold promise not only for election forecasting, but also for measuring public opinion on a broad range of social, economic and cultural issues.
As a growing number of voters are calling for increased government transparency and a new approach to politics, Big Data can help provide more direct access to citizen sentiment so that government officials can be more in tune with citizens' demands.