Friday, November 09, 2012

Machine politics

Both political campaigns this year have been heavily involved in data analysis. I wrote about this in January in an article for The Economist. Just prior to the election we published a follow up piece. It rather hedged the question of which side had the R&D advantage, although hesitantly suggested that Mr Obama did. Subsequent to the election, I think it has become fairly clear (through leaks to the press) that Mr Romney was never able to even come close to the level of technical sophistication that Mr Obama could muster and given the timescale available to them were forced to buy solutions in from contractors.

Of course the big question now is what happens next to the organisation Obama for America, and the systems, that were built to do one thing: re-elect President Obama. But in the last few minutes, Jeremy Bird, the national field director, has told Obama's army that they are not retiring but resting up for the next battle. "You helped this country stay the course. Enjoy this victory for now and rest up. There will be more work to come. Stay tuned."

Mr Obama has created what must be the largest political organisation in history. It was able to make 125m personal contacts with voters (phone calls and door knocks) in a few days prior to the election. And this army will be re-tasked. But with the next presidential election not for another four years, what task could this army possibly address?

The next elections in the US are actually on November 4th, 2014. During the mid-term elections all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives will be fought over (as well as a number of Senate seats and governorships). Is it too much to speculate that Mr Bird has just fired the starting gun for 2014?

The cyber war 

Deus ex machina 

Voters are being targeted in new and powerful ways 

Nov 3rd 2012 | CHICAGO | from the print edition

 THE scene could be in Tampa, or Santa Barbara, or Chicago. Mr and Mrs Sixpack are relaxing after dinner with their iPads. Each is looking at the same news website, but each will be shown different political advertising. He sees something about naval bases, from the Romney camp; she sees a post about the president’s environmental record. This is a new trick. Behind this year’s digital campaigns—whether through e-mail, social networks, apps or web advertising—lies an enormous body of data that have been integrated for the first time. [More...]

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