Political Tech: Predicting 2016 Headlines

Mark Stephenson is a Founding Partner at Cardinal Insights, a data analysis, modeling and strategy firm.  Cardinal Insights provides accessible and powerful data targeting tools to Republican campaigns and causes of all sizes.  Twitter:  @markjstephenson  http://www.CardinalInsights.com

The reliance on data in politics comes as no surprise to those who watch trends in technology.  Business and corporate entities have been making major investments in data analysis, warehousing and processing for decades, as have both major political parties.  As the strategic, tactical and demographic winds shift for political operatives, so too has the need to become more effective at building high quality datasets with robust analysis efforts.

Recent efforts by both Republican and Democrat organizations to outpace each other in the analytical race to the top have been well documented by the press[1].  With the 2016 Presidential election cycle already underway (yes...really), I decided to make some headline predictions for what we will see after our next President is elected, as it relates to data, technology and organizational shifts over the next three years.


"Data Crunchers Analyze Their Way Into the White House"


A similar version of the headlines we saw in 2012, the growth in the reliance and seniority of data science staff will continue.  Senior members of both party's Committee and Presidential campaign staff will be technologists (this is already happening), and data science will be integrated in all aspects of those campaigns (ie. fundraising, political, digital, etc.).


"Digital Targeting Dominates the Targeting Playbook"


Studies continue to show shifts in how voters consume advertising content, including political messaging.  Television still remains a core tactical tool, but voters of all ages are increasingly unplugged from traditional methods[2].  One-to-one data and digital targeting will grow in the scope and budget it receives and both vendors and campaigns will shift tactical applications to respond to demands.


"Scaled Data: State Races Take Advantage of National Tools"


In 2016, not only will national, big budget races use data and analytics to glean insights, but these tools will scale to lower level, state-based campaigns.  Along with more widely available, cheap (even free) technology, companies like Cardinal Insights and efforts like "Project Ivy"[3] are turning what used to be expensive and time-consuming data analysis into scalable, accessible products.  These will have lasting efforts on the profile of many state House and Senate legislatures and as a result, state and local political outcomes.


"Business Takes Notice: Political Data Wizards Shift Corporate Efforts"


Just as many political operatives took skills learned and applied during the 2012 election and focused them on entrepreneurship, the same will happen to a higher degree after 2016.  Innovators in the political data, digital and television spaces will prove the effectiveness of these new tools and as a result, corporate marketing and advertising will seek them out.


"Shift from "The Gut" to "The Numbers" for Decision Making and Targeting"


Many decisions made by political operatives in the past were made from the gut:  their intuition told them that a certain choice was the right one, not necessarily a proven method, backed by data.  In 2016, there will continue to be a dynamic shift towards data-driven efforts throughout campaigns, with an emphasis on testing, metrics and fact-based decision making.  This will permeate all divisions of campaigns, from fundraising to operations to political decisions.

Just as companies like Amazon, Coca Cola and Ford build massive data and analysis infrastructures to capitalize on sales opportunities, political campaigns will do the same to capitalize on persuading voters.  As trends in data analysis, targeting, statistical modeling and technology continue to reveal themselves, you will read many headlines in late November 2016 that are similar to the ones above.  Keep an eye on the press to see what campaigns do in 2014 and watch the growth of a booming analytical industry continue to distill itself throughout American politics.


[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/13/how-the-gops-new-campaign-tech-helped-win-a-tight-race-in-florida/; http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/harper-reed-obama-campaign-microtargeting

[2] http://www.targetedvictory.com/2014/02/21/grid-national-survey/

[3] http://swampland.time.com/2014/02/24/project-ivy-democrats-taking-obama-technology-down-ballot/