Most people tune into political campaigns interested in who is winning and what that candidate is going to do while they are in office, but CIC assistant professor Jacob Long is focused on what was able to create that successful campaign and the methods used to bring that candidate to the top.
In addition to teaching duties, Long researches the impact big data makes in campaign methods during recent elections. “The nice thing about certain aspects of politics is that we have really high-quality data that just so happens to be big that can be helpful to answer our questions,” says Long. The research can be used to determine which doors should be knocked on and how to approach specific subsets of people during campaigning.
As applied to political campaigning, Long focused on how big data benefits candidates’ overall results. Voter registration lists provide accurate information on a large population, providing valuable insights about voter subsets needing candidate focus for a specific campaign. “You may start with a list of all the voters, and then you are trying to get additional information and kind of connect it back to that original thing,” says Long.
National campaigns rely more on big data when campaigning than local city or state elections. By using big data, candidates can be more precise in how they use their time. It allows them to better judge which houses to contact and how to expend resources
Compared to elections in the past, campaigning methods have changed along with society, Long said. Door-to-door campaigning is still used, but email and text have increasingly grown. Only using big data to assess a probable election result can backfire on a candidate. “Many people believe that one of the things that got Hillary Clinton to lose was an over-reliance on big data,” Long says. When focusing on who to specifically target for campaigning, finding swing voters in the middle can sway election results, Long says.
“If you imagine that every person in America is a line in an Excel spreadsheet, for each person, they basically try to come up with a percentage chance that they’ll vote for your candidate,” said Long. When campaigning, candidates don’t benefit from spending outreach time on voters that have already made up their minds.
Using big data in campaigns is on the rise with each new election. As an outsider looking in on these campaigns, gaining access to big data is getting more difficult. “Campaigns don’t happen that often, and so it’s harder to, you know, say, ‘We use big data on this campaign and we won’,” Long says. Traditional campaigning still remains tried and true: using polling and surveys to determine which residents to reach out to and predicting election results. External factors like the condition of the economy can contribute to the success or failure of a candidate’s campaign, too. In recent election polls, the returned results were very accurate, which is encouraging to the candidates, Long says. “I do not expect polling to drop off just yet.”