Can big data analysis swing a political election?

- As nearly everything in our lives transitions from the real to the digital world, the more those things can -- and are -- being tracked. Every like, tweet, search and swipe ours is a piece of that digital data mosaic that makes up our online life. But with that massive amount of information, companies, advertisers and now political campaigns are gaining a big advantage.

Andrew Brust is the senior director of market, strategy, and intelligence at Datameer, a big data analytics platform that helps clients analyze and interpret large volumes of information. He said the platform can look for patterns and correlations among what people like, do, and buy.

For years, broad information like age, gender, race, and income would form the basis of how individuals were profiled -- demographic data. But now thanks to the wealth of online information, companies and political campaigns are able to use a new method: psychographics

All that public online data -- the things you search for, the singers you like on Facebook, the church you attend -- contributes to where we stand on what's known as the OCEAN framework. OCEAN stands for openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. And based on those dimensions, the big five, companies can form a remarkably accurate profile of what drives an individual's behavior.

"Clearly, demographics and geographics and economics will influence your world view. But equally important or more important are psychographics. That is an understanding of your personality. Cause it's personality that drives behavior. And behavior that obviously influences how you vote," Alexander Nix, the CEO of a company called Cambridge Analytica, said during a lecture at the 2016 Concordia Summit.

Cambridge Analytica is a London-based data analytics firm used by Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The firm is co-owned by GOP mega-donor Rebecca Mercer. Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, sits on the company's board.

"By having hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans undertake this survey, we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America," Nix said in the lecture. 

He said Cambridge possesses 4,000 to 5,000 data points on every single adult in America. Cambridge said that from that trove of data it was able to identify the most persuadable voters and send them targeted messages at key times in order to move them to action. But this type of targeting, while effective, can raise red flags if left unchecked.

"There are ways that this can be very creepy and very personalized," said Justin Cappos, a professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. "If a campaign is going and gathering specific people and let's say it finds out that you have had a child who was in the military and killed in action and they custom target an ad to you to try to really tug at your heart strings and use that as a mechanism to say 'Oh this other candidate is a bad person' or 'our candidate wouldn't allow this to happen or something' I think most people would find that very creepy."

While Cambridge's website touts having provided the Trump campaign the "expertise and intelligence that helped win the White House," a recent investigation by BuzzFeed News cited interviews with 13 former employees said Cambridge's claim of propelling Trump to victory is "snake oil."

Cambridge Analytica declined to be interviewed on camera. But in a statement on the BuzzFeed News article, it told Fox 5: "Cambridge Analytica has always stated on the record that it did not have the opportunity to dive deeply into their psychographic offering because there was not enough time."

But with more personal information constantly entering the public domain and companies that are better and smarter about tracking it, in the next election the candidates might know a lot more about you than you do about them.

Up Next:


  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories you may be interested in - includes Advertiser Stories