Data Analytics - Powering 2016 US Presidential Election

October 25, 2016    Data Analytics Big Data US Elections Technical

The best way to predict the future is to study past behavior. This is the underlying idea behind big data analytics. The 2008 Obama election campaign was one of the first to take advantage of data-driven methods in the race to an elected office. The Obama campaign had a data analytics team of 100 people. This shows how deeply data analytics impacts the world. From recommending products to customers on e-commerce websites (i.e. using predictive analytics) to electing the most powerful official of the free world. Big Data Analytics is indeed everywhere. Data analytics has evolved itself to become the brain of every election campaign since the Obama campaign. Data analytics helps the election campaign to understand the voters better and hence adapt to their sentiments. Now let’s find out how data analytics affects the elections and how election campaigns use it.

  1. How Data Analytics affects the election?
  2. The 2016 race to the White House had data at its center and made itself an unstoppable force. The question here is how it affects the outcome of the election? Positively or Negatively? In other words, does data analytics have the ability to turn election results? Social and polling data can affect the voters.

    Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter optimize their feeds to the target audience to promote voting. Conversely, you see Hillary Clinton leading by 73% chance to take over the White House in the polls (released by some analytics firm) to Trump. In reality, would you agree that a good number of people would feel that the election result is obvious now?

    As a result, I feel that there will be a negative impact on the voter turnout in such situations. Websites like Five Thirty Eight and Real Clear Politics use social, polling data to predict the election results. To emphasize, if they tweak those results in favor of a single candidate, then it can give an altogether different perspective to their millions of followers, who now after knowing the probable outcome may not turn out at the booths to support their candidate. Hence, it is crucial to realize the downside as well.

  3. How election campaigns make use of Data Analytics?
  4. There are two sub divisions of extracting data for an election campaign. Firstly, social data and polling data and secondly public data which becomes a part of Big Data. Firstly, this helps the candidate to understand the voters better and design the campaign accordingly. Moreover, this brings more clarity to the election campaign. Both Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns are relying on technology for reaching out to the voters in the 2016 race to The White House. The Campaign job distribution for both Hillary and Trump Campaign obtained from ValuePengiun is shown below. We can observe from the graph that Data Analytics and the resulting Strategic Operations takes up a huge chunk of the workforce of both the presidential campaigns.

    • Identifying the Swing States
    • A swing state is a state where the two major political parties have similar levels of support among voters, viewed as important in determining the overall result of a presidential election. Swing states are one of the most important factors in the US elections. Red states are ones that are dominated by the Republicans (i.e. Trump’s party) whereas the blue ones signify the dominance of the Democrats (i.e. Clinton’s party). Hence swing states are also known as purple states as both parties have similar electoral support in these areas. Large amounts of public data, polling data, sentimental analysis of Twitter and Facebook feeds are used to determine the swing states. In particular, winning the swing states can make a big difference in the electoral votes. These are the best opportunity for a party to gain electoral votes. So, political parties majorly focus on these states while strategizing their election campaign. In the 2016 US Presidential elections the 12 swing states are:- Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina. “Tipping-point chance” as described by FiveThirtyEight is the probability that a state will provide the decisive vote in the Electoral College. This is a good indicator of the Swing states.
    • Online and offline marketing
    • Using big data analytics, the election campaign analyzes the demographics of the states where they fall behind their opposition. Offline marketing like billboards and television ads is deployed strategically to target the audience using data analytics. It helps them to understand the states where the campaign needs to improve on the marketing and hence turn the voter sentiments around.
  5. Big Players in the Election Forecast
  6. Now, let’s look at some of the notable players who use data analytics on polling, social and big data for the forecast.
    • Five Thirty Eight
    • In 2007, Nate Silver launched Five Thirty Eight. Silver made data analytics super cool with his famous 2008 US Presidential election predictions. Five Thirty Eight’s 2008 presidential election forecast had 98.08% accuracy in predicting the winners in each of the states. Notably, they correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states including the District of Columbia. On the whole, Indiana is the only state in which they missed out. Five Thirty Eight's prediction on "chance of winning" for the 2016 election cycle is shown below.
    • Real Clear Politics
    • John McIntyre and Tom Bevan founded RCP in 2000. They are one of the leading websites which collects a lot of polling data and generates a predictive analytical model for the forecast.
  7. Conclusion
  8. We are in the midst of yet another US Presidential election which is due to take place on 8th November 2016. To sum up, we have seen how highly data analytics is used by election campaigns and how it affects elections as a whole. Additionally, this also opens a whole world of possibilities on how someone can be a part of such a technological field with great impact.

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