This 2016 campaign season reminds us that modern politics is increasingly data-driven. Like any business, political campaigns seek to use data to develop new insights and gain advantages. Data-driven best practices flow back and forth between political campaigns and marketing groups.
Innovations and experts honed in one domain tend to migrate to the other.
The state of the art has advanced to the point where the 2012 Obama campaign claimed it could name almost every one of the nearly 70 million Americans who cast a vote for him.
But the evolution is ongoing.
The changing nature of the data-driven game in electoral politics reflects the proven tactics and techniques that can be borrowed from customer intelligence leaders in financial services, retail and other sectors.
For instance, big data techniques are critical to mobilize voters and raise funds, just as they are to engage consumers across industries. The combination of social media geolocation and demographic data with advanced algorithms and analytics allows campaigns to get more specific as they seek donors and influencers to serve as “force multipliers” for their campaigns.
That means winners need strong infrastructure (including data management platforms) and clear policies for data quality and for sharing across entities, such as campaigns and national party organizations. Data cleanliness is another huge issue, especially for campaigns seeking to use public voting records.
Art and content complement data science
Though most campaigns can now establish the infrastructure to use data for personalization, they still lack the creative and messaging firepower to target messages on a granular basis.
To personalize at scale, campaigns must not only learn to identify “lookalike” voters by cross-referencing data types, but to actually develop and distribute the content and messages that will appeal to different types of voters.
For instance, it’s useful to know that one voter cares mostly about jobs, while another is focused on social issues, but that insight isn’t worth much if candidates can’t then deliver tailored content and messaging that speak directly to those concerns in personalized ways.
Testing and learning is another proven practice that campaigns can embrace. But they must learn to rigorously test messages quickly, if they are to yield the maximum benefits.
In a famous example, the Obama campaign was notorious for testing dozens of sample subject lines on its fundraising emails. In the long presidential cycle, candidates should have plenty of time to extensively test their messages, determine which work best and then distribute at scale. Office-seekers down the ballot, who will have limited exposure, must move more quickly.
Like consumer brands, political candidates must learn to accept the uncontrollable nature of media.
The focus should be on capturing data across channels. Campaigns know they must reach out to voters and share content through all the channels voters use – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so forth.
Beyond engaging voters, campaigns benefit from the data that can reveal important trends. For example, shifts in voter attitudes – identified by analyzing the content they are consuming – may highlight opportunities to re-allocate resources to certain states or precincts. Viral video is nice, but voluminous and various data from social is more valuable.
Experience can boost engagement
Social media data can also be “activated” to provide a foundation for DIY advocacy. Candidates should identify the most engaged and influential voters and encourage them to share information, post yard signs or volunteer.
Analysis can reveal not just who the influencers are, but also the topics they care most about and the messages they are likely to amplify. Beyond extending dollars, engagement may be particularly vital for campaigns who need to forge strong relationships with delegates at the state and county levels.
Lastly, data security is a campaign promise that must be kept. The temporary nature of political campaigns and need to share data across entities may equate to increased risk of a data breach. Thus, information security must be someone’s full-time job.
While there is little agreement about the issues or the best course forward the country, almost all candidates agree that data-driven marketing is the way to connect with voters today. In fact, it may be time to update the old adage that “all politics is local” to say that “all politics is data-driven.”