No matter who is declared the victor in tomorrow’s U.S. Presidential election, there’s one sure winner: The use of big data and analytics in the campaigns.

In the past several years, Presidential elections have served as cutting-edge laboratories in social media, big data, and analytics—testbeds that end up getting used in the industry in later years.

The vanguard in this use of big data, analytics, and social media were the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. A number of the people who worked on those campaigns ended up starting their own companies after the last election, and this year’s Presidential campaigns have hired some of those companies to work for them, writes Eric Siegel for Scientific American.

While chopping up potential voters into various interest blocs isn’t new, what is new is how much detail campaigns can now aggregate on them, thanks to social media, writes Taylor Armerding for CSO. “Everything from ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ on Facebook to YouTube views, LinkedIn profiles, activity on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit to who a person follows on Twitter, or who they retweet,” he writes. “It includes magazine subscriptions, the types of cars or boats they own, where they shop, charitable contribution history, memberships, where they live, whether they rent or own a dwelling, whether they have a vacation home, permits and licenses, own a gun, and more. All of which is designed to help candidates ‘micro-target’ their message to groups of voters.”

The most important piece of information? The ZIP code, Armerding writes. “ZIP code is among the most important pieces of information collected because where they live, where they work and where they went to school tell us a lot about individuals,” he writes. “When it is correlated with information gathered from contacts, then calls or visits inform the campaign how an individual is tending to vote.”

The advantage of these methodologies offers ways to engage with voters on things that really matter to them, which results in more motivated, and hopefully better informed, participants, Armerding writes. “’Big data’ is a buzzword, but that concept is outdated,” agrees Jim Messina, who worked on President Obama’s campaign, in the New York Times. “Campaigns have entered the era of ‘little data.’ With ‘little data,’ campaigns can have direct, highly personalized conversations with voters both on- and offline.”

The disadvantage, though, is the potential security and privacy risks this data collection has, Amerding warns, noting that there have already been hacking incidents with such databases.

Such analytics can provide much more accurate information than telephone polling, especially in a day and age where people have caller ID and don’t have landlines, writes Chris Preimesberger for eWeek. This is why the polls leading up to the election had such inconsistent results, he notes.

Analytics companies that formed after the 2012 election are also applying what they’ve learned to the standard commercial marketing sector, Siegel writes. In fact, developing analytics for a commercial endeavor can actually be a lot simpler than for a political campaign because the company can use actual purchasing data, not just how a person responds to a survey, he notes.

While much of the analytics at this point is being used to target advertising on television, campaigns are also starting to look at using social media as a means of delivering such messages, as well as a data source, writes Alex Woodie in Datanami. “The going is tough in social, as the data is a little more sketchy, and it’s not so easy to know who you’re reaching with media buys,” he admits. But some companies are giving it a try. “TargetSmart is doing some innovative work in this area, with the hopes of impacting the 2016 election. The company has matched the entire 255 million person national voter file to digital platforms like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and MSN by using personally identifiable information (PII),” he writes.

“Campaigns have always organized voters at the door and on the phone. Now, we think of one more way,” Erek Dyskant, co-founder and vice president of impact at BlueLabs Analytics tells Dana Gardner in ITDirector.Com. In addition to phone calls and knocking on doors, people can use one-to-one social media channels to let their friends know why the election matters so much to you and why they should turn out and vote, or vote for the issues that really matter to you, he says.

In addition to working on campaigns, the company also uses what it’s learned to work with retail companies to encourage customers to come back in the future, Gardner adds.

Researchers are also using the types of things that people post to social media as a data source for sentiment analysis, which enables the researchers to make predictions about who is likely to win the Presidential election, write David Tuffley and Bela Stantic in Phys.org. “When our Big Data and Smart Analytics Lab analysed those comments on Twitter towards the end of July, it predicted that if the US Presidential election had been held at that time, Drumpf would have been the winner over Clinton.” That technology also accurately predicted the winner of the Australian federal election.

The same technology is also being used to research other issues, including ones as far afield as potential environmental problems in the Great Barrier Reef, Tuffley and Stantic add. “By sampling different sources of data, including social media postings and photos, it’s possible to recognise types of fish, how plentiful or scarce they are and the extent of coral bleaching. Integrating all of this data and applying deep learning allows potential environmental issues on the Reef to be identified early.”

It remains to be seen how the lessons learned from the 2016 campaigns will transform the IT industry. In the meantime, we hope you’re contributing to the data stream by voting.

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