Big Data for Campaigns…?

A Rant: Big Data Won’t Win Your Campaign

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Every cycle, pundits would have you believe another new technology is poised to revolutionize political campaigns. A continuing “it” technology is Big Data.

Do not believe the hype. Big data will not win your election.

The keys to winning a campaign are still planning, hard work, and focus. There are no shortcuts.

New Tech Craze Every Cycle

Before “Big Data” was the latest craze, it was Twitter. The punditry world was convinced that would allow candidates to engage every voter everywhere. (And we’ve now seen how poorly Twitter can be used to reach voters.)

Before Twitter, it was micro-targeting, Facebook, and smart phones. Look a little further back and you can find articles about PDA’s, email lists, online credit card processing, cloud computing, and even websites and fax machines.

When I first started working campaigns, electronic databases were the next big thing. (Yes, I am dating myself. I know.) Many of these are now more or less standard on every campaign. Some are not. (Sorry Treo and PalmPilot believers.) However, before this could take place, it took several election cycles for each these to be accessible and affordable enough for even down ballot and local races to use them.

Websites, credit card processing, email, and Facebook are so widely accepted that modern campaigns look bad not using them. But, Twitter, cloud computing, and micro-targeting are not the norm. Even professional electronic databases are still making their way into local races. Most down ballot candidates continue to use Excel.

Big DataYes, the Obama and Hillary teams ran truly impressive campaigns that reached millions of targeted voters in new ways. This data and these tactics are now being shared with others. The DNC rolled out Project Ivy to help bring some of these tools to the mainstream. Maybe some day they will be as common place as campaign websites.

Campaigns in the United States: 508,000+

But, consider this: the vast majority of campaigns are for local office.

There are more than 508,000 elected offices in the United States. There are only 537 federally elected positions and 7,382 state legislators. That leaves more than 500,000 local campaigns for city council, school board, mayor, county board, etc.

When I read about the next technological breakthrough that is going to revolutionize elections, these are the races I imagine. Can they afford it? Would they know how to use it if they could? The answer, when is comes to Big Data, is no.

Truth About Winning Campaigns and Big Data
There is a simple truth about campaigns that does not change year after year.

That truth is this: there is no substitute for hard work. Winning a campaign takes planning, hard work and focus from the candidate, staff and volunteers.

Unless you are a highly targeted, multi-million dollar congressional or state-wide campaign, big data will not affect your ability to win your race. It is best used by large campaigns that can afford the technology, and the know-how to use it most effectively.

If you are lucky enough to be part of a well-funded and highly organized coordinated campaign, maybe they can use big data to turn out some more voters for you, but your field plan shouldn’t hang in the balance — at least not for another six to eight years.