Big Data Analytics: Reframing Political Campaigns

March 12, 2012
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A lot of people talk about Big Data, but not may do anything meaningful with it. Planned Parenthood is one of the “not many,” and we are all witnessing the power of Big Data analytics in current political events.

A lot of people talk about Big Data, but not may do anything meaningful with it. Planned Parenthood is one of the “not many,” and we are all witnessing the power of Big Data analytics in current political events.

In a post on my personal blog last week, I wrote about how Planned Parenthood is using Big Data analytics combined with shrewd political strategy to mobilize support and turn a political tide, arguably using nothing more than the support that has been there all along. A notable fact – Planned Parenthood, working with Catalist, has developed a model to identify likely supporters individually, and has used that model to score every woman in America for her level of support for their cause.

The purpose of analytics is simple: provide information that forms a meaningful basis for decision making. Data analysis itself can be challenging, but actually using the results when making decisions, that’s the hardest thing of all. When you believe your personal well-being depends on something, it’s hard to accept evidence that plays against your cause.

Richard Day of Richard Day Research (recently acquired by Market Probe) speaking to a group of women’s health advocates in the era of the first President Bush, told the audience that compromise might be necessary. It wasn’t what the room wanted to hear, but he called it like he saw it, and nobody questioned the quality of his research or the reasoning behind that point of view. That did not mean the women’s health community was willing to compromise on reproductive health policy.

The difficulty of respecting the numbers can be overwhelming when the numbers suggest we can’t have what we want. We all have our self-interests and our points of view, and reasons to defend them.

The Clinton administration invested a lot of energy, but failed to actually put a national health plan in place. Their approach called for a full-coverage health program, including reproductive health services. Would it have been better if they had heeded Richard Day’s advice and compromised on some issues to move forward on others? Now, as campaigns discover Big Data analytics resources, new options are developing.

As the Obama administration again pushes for a complete national health plan, it is encountering opposition similar to that which snuffed the Clinton health plan. Opponents hitting hard at reproductive health coverage on moral and religious grounds, the entire health plan has been threatened along with those services. But this time, something is very different. The support from advocates of contraception and reproductive choice has been powerful and swift.

Many things have changed in the twenty years since Clinton took office. The internet and social media facilitate communication for everyone. Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of women’s health services, added a political wing and a new president, Cecile Richards, who is a remarkable politician herself. A massive recession affects public attitudes. Analytics also has a significant role to play.

With rising access to computers and analytics power, some political campaigns are now able to answer questions they might not even have asked twenty years ago. Today, campaigns can get good answers to questions like these: Who (names, please) are the people who can vote on this issue, and, how likely is each individual on this list to vote in support of my candidate or issue?

The hundred million or so women in America don’t represent the biggest of the Big Data resources. But this level of detail is huge compared to what was widely available a generation ago, and in real life, and we are experiencing the impact of Big Data analytics quickly and with drama.

 

 

©2012 Meta S. Brown