Gone were the days when election campaigns are executed by communicating the same political message to groups of audiences across demographics. In 2008, Obama demonstrated how data could be leveraged to win elections. The feat was repeated in 2012.
However, it was the Cambridge Analytica scandal that sheds light on the deeper mechanisms of how data is used to influence voters in the 2016 US Presidential election. The expose also shows how privacy, or the lack of it, has resulted in the data of millions of Facebook users being utilized to run campaigns in favor of Donald Trump.
It’s an open secret that your online behavior is tracked by social media, advertisers, and search engines. Each click, whether it is checking out a video or purchasing a digital product online, is stored and analyzed to profile the behavioral characteristics of an individual.
For advertisers, data analytics means a more targeted approach in showing the right ads to the right group of individuals. In politics, the application of data analytics is more complicated and has the power to swing votes.
While Cambridge Analytica’s strategy is controversial, it has proven to be effective when it swayed the British voters in favor of leaving the EU on 23rd June 2016. The data analytics firm was engaged by Leave.EU to execute the online campaign leading to the referendum.
British voters are influenced as Leave.EU leveraged on the analytics provided by Cambridge Analytica in personalizing political messages online. Voters with different leaning receive different messages on social media ads.
The fact that more users are getting on the internet means an increasing amount of data to fuel the interest of politicians. Months later, Cambridge Analytica again succeeds in influencing the US Presidential Election in favor of Donald Trump. The same strategy is used to good effect in sending personalized messages to clusters of electorates across the country.
The intelligence gathered from data analytics enables a politician to craft different messages to subgroups of individuals. By wearing different hats, the politician stands a better chance of garnering a higher number of votes compared to preaching a singular message to the public. For a clearer picture, Trump’s campaign involves running up to 50,000 variations of ads targeting different groups daily.
The ingenuity in Trump’s data analytics campaign goes beyond building rapport with his voters. Cambridge Analytica used the same tactic to discourage his opponent’s voters from exercising their vote in the election.
It would be naive to assume that only the winning parties are employing data analytics in a political campaign. Political campaigns and elections have turned into a bitter competition of who makes better use of the data.
Of course, the question remains if harvesting data of millions of internet users go against basic human rights of privacy. Legislations may be introduced to restrict the usage of personal data, but it wouldn’t change the tide of how elections are being campaigned in the future; with superior data analytics strategy.