Big data in the political realm

Although big data and analytics have seen their most significant implementations in the context of private sector businesses, this is hardly the limit to their usefulness. Nonprofit organizations, government departments and other institutions have all begun putting this data to use with the help of business intelligence software platforms. For example, analytics have found a notably valuable application in the political realm.

Arguably, the most prominent example of politically leveraged big data is that of Nate Silver, a data scientist who correctly predicted the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, despite being second-guessed and shrugged off by many traditional pollsters. Yet he was far from the only person going about these endeavors. According to ZDNet, the Democratic National Committee used big data and analytics in a similar manner, to analyze voter behaviors and develop insights that allowed for a greater understanding of the political climate at the time. This allowed the DNC to promote outreach efforts that offered the best return.

The news source reported that Chris Wegryzn, the DNC's director of data architecture based out of Washington, D.C., wanted to take the organization's use of voter-sourced big data to the next level. It had already distinguished itself by being data-driven during the 2008 campaign, but the advent of BI analysis software tools and cutting-edge techniques allowed them to examine more data than ever before. This was useful in terms of coming up with new ways for targeting undecided and likely voters – outside of using more traditional forms of TV advertising, which Wegryzn characterized as "a lot of wasted money."

Instead, the aggregate info that the organization managed to collect let them track the interest of specific – rather than broad – demographics, so that they would only be addressing individuals who had some reasonable probability of voting for the candidates they were supporting. That way, none of their points fell on entirely deaf ears.

According to The New York Times, this involved, in part, the tracking of public data regarding TV viewing habits, to look for so-called low-information voters who would not make up their minds regarding who they would choose until the last minute. The DNC ended up placing its commercials on – to crucially successful effect – channels like ESPN and TV Land as well as late night programs like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

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