Big Data Meets Presidential Politics

In winning the 2012 presidential election, the Obama campaign successfully employed big data analytics to influence people and get them to vote. Analytics experts say enterprises can apply these same tactics to influence customers and drive sales.

The 2012 election was a watershed event for leveraging technology in the political arena. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns relied heavily on technology, but many observers say the Obama campaign tapped into the power of data analytics more effectively.

“Part of the reason for the Obama victory was the campaign’s ability to mobilize the vote, and it used a lot of data to do that,” says Alex Black, who leads CSC’s Enterprise Intelligence Practice. The Obama campaign deployed a team of technologists who built a sophisticated data platform code-named Narwhal that proved highly effective for raising money and tracking voters.

Narwhal served as the technical backbone for campaign operations, integrating data to enable functions such as customized email fundraising and identification of likely voters. Obama campaign staffers used the system to analyze voters’ registration data and online habits. “They developed models predicting who was most likely to vote and then targeted follow-up events at those people,” Black says.

Social media played a prominent role in the election. During the campaign, Deen Freelon, an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington D.C., blogged extensively on the use of technology in the election. Freelon says that although more research needs to be done to determine the impact of social media, “There is no question that both candidates took social media seriously.” He says the best evidence of its impact is a study which found that people are more likely to vote if they learn, via social media, that their friends will vote.

As a by-product of the technology efforts, and the fact that Democratic voters skew to a younger demographic, the Obama campaign maintained a lopsided advantage in social media circles. The experts say organizations can capitalize on lessons learned from Obama’s victory in the use of data analytics and social media.

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