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Thanks to Big Data, POTUS Candidates Now Know You Better Than You Know Yourself

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Presidential hopefuls understand that the road to the White House is paved with data, as much as possible. Big Data, intimate knowledge of the voter, has become the latest weapon in the candidate’s arsenal.

Voter profiles are vital to knowing the electorate. Both Democratic and Republican parties keep extensive voter records. They understand the vital importance data plays in not only getting out the vote, but also fundraising and tracking issues that concern voters.

Data tracking of voters actually began in 2002. That year, Congress established the Help America Vote Act or HAVA. The HAVA act required states to compile an official state voter database. It was up to the states to decide what information to include, how the information could be used, and the cost of the database.

The United States Census Bureau also collects voter information. So the concept of the secret ballot in America is a myth.

Voter profiles reveal extremely detailed and personal information. Big data collectors know your sexual orientation, income and occupation, gun ownership, race and religion, marital status, and even what magazines you read, food you eat, personal hygiene preferences, and prescriptions.

This is mostly demographic information. Data collection means nothing if secrets are off limits.

Another key data point for political parties and candidates is the psychographic. Psychographic data is the study of personality, values, opinions, attitudes interests and lifestyles. In other words, what you think and believe.

According to Politico, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has enlisted the help of a little-known company called Cambridge Analytica. The company is owned by one of his biggest donors. Cambridge Analytica uses non-traditional “psychographic analyses of voters using micro-messages to secure their support.”

President Obama set the precedent of using Big Data to reach voters in his 2012 campaign. According to DataFloq.com, the Obama campaign ran over 66,000 computer simulations a day. Obama’s political advisor and former White House Chief of Staff for Operations, Jim Messina, said the objective was to “measure everything.”

According to Wired, “Obama’s campaign began the 2012 election year confident it knew the name of every one of the 69,456,897 Americans whose votes had put him in the White House.”

Voter data is being collected not only by candidates and political parties, but also by various groups interested in influencing the political process before, during, and after elections.

The Koch brothers, well known political activists, have established a fund called, ‘Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.’ According to the Freedom Partners tax filings, one of the Koch network’s biggest investments, $11 million, was spent growing its voter database.

So how are candidates using this information? One of the most vital uses for voter information is issue tracking. Candidates closely monitor how particular issues are perceived across geographic and demographic lines. This data allows them to tailor their message for different voting blocs.

Data collection can track incoming telephone calls and emails to candidates. The campaign can collect and analyze petitions and supporter lists from advocacy groups and NGOs (Non-Government Organizations). This permits the candidate to closely track how issues are trending with voters. The bottom line is, candidates can know what a particular group of voters want to hear before they speak.

Another vital use of voter data is getting out the vote. Voter turnout can be vital in both local and national elections. Candidates are using big data to ensure their supporters get to the polls.

In one example, the Georgia GOP created a mobile app for its volunteers and employees. These workers used the app to collect information such as the interests and concerns of individual voters. This app was linked in real-time to the party’s 14 “victory offices.”

Volunteers made call after call, politely introducing themselves before getting into the campaign pitch. The volunteers knew exactly what to talk about to each voter based on the data collected through the app and used this information to urge people to the polls.

Data collection also makes fundraising easier and allows candidates to keep the money flowing by reaching out via email and mailings asking for donations. Because of big data, campaigns know how much money potential contributors can afford to donate.

Big data helps campaigns target donors both small and large, individual and groups. Candidates know and understand the issues these groups are interested in and can use data to tailor their request for money.

The bottom line is candidates can know what a particular group of voters want to hear before they speak.
Candidates use big data to plan how to spend that money. Like product marketers, politicians want to place political ads in the right media and right location where they will have the greatest impact. Big data analytics helps candidates locate and target the right audience for their message.

Data has become so important that squabbles have broken out over data and access to it. Recently, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign was denied access to the DNC voter database after accusations that his staffers illegally accessed Hillary Clinton’s data.

Sanders claimed that a software glitch was responsible for the exposure of Clinton’s data. He apologized and fired a handful of staffers for exploiting the glitch. The Democratic National Committee blocked the Sanders campaign from accessing its voter data but restored the access after Sanders threatened to sue.

But with all this information being collected by the candidates, is there concern about voter privacy? Many experts believe that the greatest threat to voter privacy won’t come from retailers or the NSA or law enforcement, but from election campaigns at all levels.

Political organizations and candidates have clear privacy policies that can be found online. But these privacy policies do not extend to those who collect and sell private information. And in case you’re wondering, there are plenty of voter lists and data for sale online.

Breaches of voter data have recently made news. In December of last year, a massive voter database containing the names and personal information of 190 million voters was found online. No one has claimed ownership of the data and a programming error is believed to have left the information exposed.

In Georgia, the secretary of state was heavily criticized for accidentally mailing out discs containing the data of over 6 million voters to various news organizations.

The CDs contained voter data that were regularly mailed out as part of a legal subscription service offering access to lists of registered voters. The CDs were mailed to subscribers with additional sensitive information like social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.

Candidates too are swallowing up massive amounts of data. In December, a political action committee working on behalf of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was seen collecting data from New Hampshire voters. Willing voters surrendered information including names, email addresses, zip codes, and candidate preferences.

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, has begun the process of building a formidable data collection machine. Data strategists Matt Braynard and Witold Chrabaszcz lead Trump’s team with the help of political data collection firms L2 and rVote.

Trump’s team is collecting data through his campaign website and at voter rallies and is focused on nontraditional or unregistered supporters. This is combined with data from the Republican National Committee and commercially available data in an effort to mobilize supporters in key early states.

Candidate Ted Cruz has even employed Santa Claus to collect voter data. Cruz made several campaign appearances with Santa, allowing his supporters to take pictures with Jolly Ol’ St. Nick. But in order to retrieve the pictures, the supporters had to submit their names, email, and zip codes.

But Santa is not the only tool the Cruz campaign is using to get voter data. The campaign uses an app that encourages users to provide the name and contact information of friends. Users are awarded points for contact data, basically making a game of surrendering personal information.

Users are even encouraged to turn over the full contact list from their smartphone or computers for reward points. You can also get points for donating money as well.

Learning from retail marketers, candidates have begun using the very same methods of collecting data. Nearly every campaign sells products with campaign logos to their supporters. These products tell a story about each and every buyer/voter.

Candidates learn a lot about their supporters based on the product they buy — such as if you prefer beer or wine. Are you into sports? What cellphone you own? What is your level of heath and fitness? Do you have a child and what is that child’s age?

The money that comes from these sales is a nice addition to the information collected. The more sophisticated the product, the more a candidate can learn about his or her supporters.

Keep in mind, buying products from a candidate’s website is really a campaign contribution. Besides being asked your full name, shipping address, phone and email, and credit card number, you will also see a statement that says; “Federal law requires us to collect the following information”: employer, occupation, and whether you are retired — just like any other other online donation. Basically more data.

Photo Credit: Lasse Kristensen / shutterstock.com

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22 comments
Drew Hillman
Drew Hillman

Maybe that's why they don't try to get my vote. They know I don't buy into the party system.

Daniel Nadeau
Daniel Nadeau

If nirvana is not sought after. How do you know? Taking someone else's opinions over your own investigation of the mind is not what the Buddha taught. On his death bed he said: be a light unto yourself, question everything, even what I have taught. If something is good and wholesome do it. If it is not wholesome leave it.

Terry Mingus
Terry Mingus

The divide between paranoia and nirvana is a thin one. As far as possibility goes, paranoia scenarios are usually a more possible reality than nirvana ;)

Daniel Nadeau
Daniel Nadeau

If your a history buff, you should know the very same situation was the prelude to the great depression as far as Corporate tyranny in government. It took socialism to balance the scales. I'm not asking you to agree with me. I'm urging you to get more informed. Balance is what Bernie represents.

Terry Mingus
Terry Mingus

Actually i don't trust a single news source known to man they are all owned by somebody with an agenda which is not good for the people of the world pick your poison extreme left or extreme right they are both poison :P History on the other hand is easy to see. enforced socialism never works out and the bern is not into compromise he's an angry man not dissimilar to Hitler and I trust him about as far as I can throw a sherman tank... then again I donlt trust the others any furter so there you are ;)

Daniel Nadeau
Daniel Nadeau

I'm so happy to discuss the views you have and how you got to your brilliant conclusions. Of which there are outlets for such claims. 1) FOX NEWS 2) CNN 3) MSNBC Why should they not make false exaggerations about what Bernie stands for. He wants to alter the balance of power back to the people. Corporate greed owns the politicians, and the media. The only there at he is to the Corporate Overlords is having to pay taxes, requiring them to pay a minimum of $18-15 an hour, breaking up the monopolizing Banks and Insurance companies. There are actually realistic numbers out there check out political on that. You know the sites that had to arise because the news doesn't represent truth in reporting anymore. I'll await your insightful reply.

Terry Mingus
Terry Mingus

yes I a looking forward to living in equal poverty with everyone else even those who refuse to work but get the benefit or my work i find that very motivating.... NOTTTTT but i guess a least he admits he want to take our stuff and give it to someone else ... eh?

Mark Brown
Mark Brown

Ya think? Vote for Bernie, the average, middle class Americans last hope.

Jerry Titus
Jerry Titus

There is a database called Aristotle...

Anatole Evans
Anatole Evans

Yes the media blackout is in full effect! Check out Trump coverage Vs. Sanders!!! Guns and abortion! Keeping the people distracted and stuck on stupid! Divide and conquer! Only rich lives matter? Stand up to Hill first!! Trump is next! About as fair and balanced as the Corporate media! Feel the Bern! The two party system has been playing the same game for forty years! The only ones benefiting and getting what they want is the one percent! Just a trending news story brought to you by repetition creates reality inc. Also brought to you by just ignore Bernie Sanders inc. Not all that different from how Bill Cosby handled these questions! Bill Clinton is just a much better liar! Check out the list of allegations and the number of women making them! I believe victims and I don't trust the Clintons! Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby used power, intimidation, and a persona larger than life to silence a lot of women! Just wrong! Rape was part of the allegations and money was paid out! How many women need to come forward before we believe them? HRC is enabler in chief!

Chris Warner
Chris Warner

No, the biggest threat is still from the business of "big data".

Daniel Nadeau
Daniel Nadeau

There is still integrity, vote Bernie Sanders!

Jeff Marston
Jeff Marston

Well, not surprising but certainly scary.  Look at the differences between 2012 and now and think about them in the next 5-10 years.

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ashk
ashk

"Voter profiles reveal extremely detailed and personal information. Big data collectors know your sexual orientation, income and occupation, gun ownership, race and religion, marital status, and even what magazines you read, food you eat, personal hygiene preferences, and prescriptions." Keen insights Tom. 


I bet most voters dont even think about this kind of stuff when consuming candidate ads.