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/

Data Visualization: State of The Union Psychology

By:  DSC00302 - Version 2 For the first time, an Enhanced State of The Union Address is available online, complete with timely visualizations.  The President did not deliver a power point presentation, the Enhanced SOTU provided visualizations that complimented the speech through supporting data, infographics, a repeat of the quote, and compelling images.  Once done with the speech, to gather feedback, the transcript was made interactive so everyone can comment on any specific sentence.  Some visualizations stand alone, others require context from the speech, all are designed to guide your thought processes to reinforce a message.


SOTU_77PoliticalGamesAddressing Partisanship

Loosely speaking, since President Obama took office Republicans in Congress have taken an uncompromising stance against many of his and the Democrat's initiatives.  One compelling poll is that 77% of Americans believe games in Washington are causing serious harm to our country.  To illustrate this poll, the infographic shows 77 of 100 stick figures as a separate color, and to make his more subtle point, Obama colors the majority in Democrat blue and the minority in Republican red.  The messages in infographics are not always explicit, in this case not so subtle either; are all the people who think games cause harm really Democrat's?  That's silly of course, thousands were polled, but infographics are designed to lead us into assumptions and questions the presenter would like us to make.

SOTU_OilTaxBreaksBack to The Future

The first thing you notice in this infographic is the Model-T, immediately invoking thoughts of the early 20th century.  The image is more compelling because rather than imagining what is 100 years old, the image makes you think of other things from the same time period (black and white photography, prohibition, Woodrow Wilson, Ford, horse and buggy, etc.) and your mind naturally realizes they are all roughly 100 years old.  It's the difference of rote learning versus learning by discovery, and by discovering the connections ourselves it's almost like it's our own idea.  Further, we know we've made progress since the Model-T, and so anything associated with it must be old and out of date, right?  In this case we are to believe that oil subsidies are out of date and closing loopholes is progressive.  Did it work on you?

SOTU_BrainScansSpin on the Well Known

We all have seen images of the human brain, either from school or especially in the last decade as new imaging technologies, such as fMRI, has become much more widely available to researchers.  Even if you were a neuroscientist, you might assume these scans were created via fMRI, and you could likely explain which regions of the brain are highlighted, but what is the difference between the extremes of color in each chart?  Why does each chart have a different color scale?  What was the person doing when these scans were taken?  Are these scans even of the same person?  These images are not designed to convey specific scientific knowledge, they are designed to invoke cutting edge analysis of the brain.  The compelling nature of the images (everyone loves heatmaps) makes you want to keep whatever created them, in this case the cutting edge research The President argues will provide America with significant ROI.