By: Kevin Maisto
Yesterday, we were able to hear from Reince Priebus, the outspoken Chairman of the Republican National Committee. While differing politically, I was intrigued to hear from one of the principal shapers of our political system.
He began by touting Congressional election victories (unsurprisingly, the failure of Romney/Ryan 2012 didn’t seem to be mentioned much), attributing much of the success to a greater emphasis on data to predict voting. For example, analysts attribute Florida Representative David Jolly’s surprising victory in his 2014 special election to the new “Honeybadger” system of data used by the RNC. This consists of a continually updating system of voter information, specifically in regards to effects of targeted messaging on voter turnout.
This is just one example of an ever-growing aspect of the political arena. The GOP has developed a so-called Data Trust to allow candidates access to extensive knowledge about their constituents, allowing more effective branding and a greater impact on sought-after markets of voters. This also follows a national and international trend to utilize the unprecedented amounts of consumer data.
As a marketing student and a strong believer in the impact of data analytics (remember Target?), I am in full support of political parties taking advantage of consumer and voter data. It is only natural to attempt to understand your constituents better and create a more targeted campaign. Ideally, this would also create an electorate that can better represent the American people.
Unfortunately, idealistic thoughts don’t seem to last in Washington, D.C. Chairman Priebus, in discussing political strategy and the use of big data, made one truly disappointing comment. Essentially, the Democratic and Republican National Committees separately rank voters on scales of 0-100 depending on their propensity to vote for each respective party. Most of the messaging can then be focused towards those voters who could be easily persuaded to vote for either candidate. This prevents waste and allows for more effective campaigning. All good things, all good things.
However, there is also the group of voters who are ranked 0-10, meaning that they will never vote for the party conducting the research. For Republicans, this would be any voter who would always vote Democratic. In order to gain a strategic advantage, messaging to that group of constituents shall be exclusively negative in order to dissuade any voting at all.
Strategically and logically, I can understand. Naturally, if you know that someone will never vote for your candidate, make sure they don’t vote for the other one.
Nationally, democratically, ETHICALLY speaking, this is ABHORRENT. When did we allow the destruction of our ideals in order to win an election? Our government was founded on the principle of a representative democracy. For our two largest political parties to be engaging in strategies that dampen the freedoms we all hold leaves me disgusted in the process. This can certainly be linked to our lowest midterm election turnout since WWII – only 36.4% of eligible voters in 2014.
Ultimately, American voters control the political process. By allowing data to prevent us from contributing to the foundation of our nation, we are effectively relinquishing our hold on the government. It is crucial that we regain that control and remind those in charge of the effect that the voting bloc can wield.