US Elections: How Donald Trump is using Big Data Analytics

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From Barack Obama to Narendra Modi to Donald Trump, politicians today are resorting to technology big time for reaching out to voters. It is not just about e-advertisements or social media campaign. In fact, it is much deeper than what we actually see. At the back-end lies Big Data analytics that help a candidate understand the voters better and design the election campaigns accordingly.

Avinash Iragavarapu, executive director, Arizona Republican Party, is doing it all for Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee for the 2016 US presidential elections.

Avinash’s journey started in 2014 when he was on a holiday in the US. Elections were round the corner. He researched about the race for the Arizona Governor’s post and analysed past voting patterns, did some polling and approached a candidate named Doug Ducey, then the treasurer of Arizona. He was impressed by Avinash. This is where Avinash got the breakthrough in US political scenario and his candidate won.

After the unprecedented success in turning out Republican voters, he was offered a job as political director and later promoted as executive director for the Arizona Republican party. And now, Avinash, who studied at IIM Lucknow, is busy devising strategies for Donald Trump.

In an exclusive conversation with TechGig.com, he shared his success mantra for deploying technology during election and how tech is an important part of winning today. Excerpts:

How is data science used in election campaigning?

Simply put, data science brings more clarity and objectivity in election campaigning. It helps in taking well-informed and data-backed decisions. Usually, in Indian campaigns people take decisions based on anecdotes and not based on data which turns out to be a costly mistake. Data science is used in every aspect – analysing issues that matter to the voters, segmenting the diverse voters into homogenous groups, identifying the homogenous groups that would most probably vote for the candidate, the methods to reach them based on their group, fund raising , voter outreach, voter turnout on the election day.

At every step, data science and technology can be used to run an efficient and cost-effective campaign.

Currently, in this 2016 campaign, we have data on every voter for up to 1,000 variables. We know the basic demographics like age, gender, their ethnicity and past voting record – we know how many times they voted in past elections. However, we will not be able to see which party they voted for but we can see whether they voted or not. This will help us in not wasting money by reaching out to people who don’t vote.

Also, we have information about various other parameters like their magazine purchase, their online purchases, cars they drive, income level and their membership in any groups. We identified 1,000 such parameters. We do predictive modelling and data analytics to discover the hidden patterns and connections that define and link key groups within the voters. We turn rich data sets into manageable and actionable groups of people who share similar characteristics, and define the target set by identifying and locating lookalike groups across the voter.

How are election campaigns incomplete/ineffective without the usage of data analytics?

Let me explain this in the context of political messaging (advertising). Two different people might go to the same restaurant for different reasons- one could have chosen it for taste of food served in it and the other for the inexpensive prices of food served in it. It will be futile for the restaurant to advertise to the price-conscious person about the taste of food in that restaurant. Multiply this by 100 and that is the complexity in political messaging.

We use Big Data analysis and psychographic profiling to better connect with people through messaging. We use OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism) framework to segment voters for better advertising. The number of traditional TV watchers has been decreasing- people watch on different screens now (Mobile, Tablet). Targeted advertising can happen by using Big Data analysis to suit voter personality and his mode of media exposure.

What are the tech processes you have learnt in the US elections that could be applied in India to create an impact?

There are various tech processes we use in the campaign. Technology is not just using social media or computer. It is about using automated and integrated systems such that all the decisions of campaign are made based on data and all the activities are coordinated and well tracked.

For example, the last-mile activity of knocking doors for campaigning in India is usually done by somebody in that ward who just distributes pamphlets. I have a plan to bring technology from here and modify in such a way that, any volunteer who has access to an app can go door-to-door based on geo-mapping and can see from his app the names of the people who live there and the topics to talk to them about. This will be helpful in towns, cities and can also reduce the dependency on some ward member who might not be well disciplined.

Currently, campaign workers in India knock on a door and give the standard pitch to every household. Something that appeals to a 60-year-old man doesn’t appeal to a 30-year-old man. With the new technology, this whole process will be customised and the engagement rate will be higher

How do you see the difference in between Indian and US voters and how do you plan to modify the technologies accordingly?

Indian voters are more diverse. On one end, you have highly-educated, tech savvy voters and on the other end you have illiterate voters whose primary source of information is discussion under trees in a village. In most of the states, both of them co-exist and it is important for the party to reach out to both categories of voters. Having worked in both countries, I have clear plans to customise the campaigns in India for state-wide and nation-wide too.

Any interested political party should start the adoption of technology at least 1.5 to 2 years before the election day. Again, technology is not just a twitter account or a Facebook account- it is the usage of integrated systems in every function of the campaign. It takes time to build and test the infrastructure and process. The returns of having such an advanced system are far higher than the traditional campaign.

What are the chances of Donald trump in winning the elections?

Donald Trump is not a traditional candidate. He has rewritten all the rules in political campaigning. He spent the least amount of money in the primary elections (Unlike in India, people choose the party nominee through elections). There were 16 other candidates contesting in the primary– including accomplished governors, senators and business people. He beat all of them with a high margin. Trump is a smart businessman and knows how to market himself. He got a $2 billion worth free media coverage. No amount of spend can match that advantage.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has many controversies surrounding her. This includes her association with big donors, her private email server, Benghazi attack and her failure as secretary of state.

How do you model a campaign and gauge the impact? Do you take help of other techies?

The model of a campaign depends on various factors. As the executive director, I look after more than 40 different races across Arizona. We use a different strategy for each race. Some of the factors, I consider include:

a) Past voting trends in that area

b) Current polling trends

c) Are we retaining the seat or trying to gain a seat from other party?

d) Current demographics

e) Voter segmentation based on predictive modeling techniques

f) No. of contestants in the race

g) Candidate’s Strength and weakness

h) Opposition strength and weakness.

Based on all the above, I decide what strategy we ought to deploy in that race. The strategy we use and the vote goal we decide on a race with a first-time candidate running against an incumbent will be entirely different from the strategy and vote goal for a race with three or more candidates where incumbent is not running. Yes, there are other techies too. There is a dedicated data director and also other republican consultants who assist in the whole process.

Will the future of elections rest on technology and Big Data?

Yes, the future of elections will depend largely on technology and big data. This is assuming that candidates on both sides are equal in other terms – capabilities, fund raising and popularity. Let us say, hypothetically some candidate has $10 billion to spend on the campaign. The candidate can bombard all available medium of communication with messaging and high number of staff, it becomes difficult to match that juggernaut with an expenditure of only $500 million.

However an expenditure of $1 billion dollar can be easily outsmarted with an expenditure of $500 million, if the big data and technology are correctly used. Elections are very complicated, and understanding the voter’s choice is a complex phenomenon. This is simplified to a great extent by the use of Big Data. Use of technology simplifies the voter outreach programs and voter turnout programmes.

The post was taken from http://techgig.com

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Kalyan Banga204 Posts

I am Kalyan Banga, a Post Graduate in Business Analytics from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, a premier management institute, ranked best B-School in Asia in FT Masters management global rankings. I have spent 6 years in field of Analytics.

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