Big data has become the big new thing, discussed daily on television, online, and in the print media. (A recent book published by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier called Big Data provides insights on how its use will help transform the future.)
The government utilizes Big Data to predict and follow possible terrorists, and to hopefully prevent terrorist activities from occurring. More mundane applications include predicting weather patterns to help farmers, collecting economic data that can influence government and Federal Reserve policies, and obtaining information about health care. Corporate entities utilize Big Data to understand their customers’ likes and dislikes, to decide on new products, and to assess whether advertising is working. And there are numerous other ways Big Data is employed by both government and corporations to collect information that assists in their objectives.
The accumulation of huge troves of data that reveal people’s inclinations would seem to be politically neutral. However, thus far the Democrats have used Big Data much more effectively than their Republican counterparts. In the 2012 election, the overall popular vote for president, the Senate, and the House was won by the Democrats, even though gerrymandering allowed the Republicans to win more House seats. The use of Big Data helped the Democrats win the popular votes and will help them again in the future.
There are several reasons why Big Data favors the Democratic Party in its attempts to elect their candidates. Republicans are seen as anti-science by many scientists and “techies” who are not willing to help the GOP improve its use of technology. The perception of Republicans as denigrating science is more than just perception. A large percentage of Republicans deny climate change, do not accept evolution as valid, or the Big Bang theory. And Republican comments about rape and pregnancy did not enhance the party’s scientific credentials.
Republicans also did not quickly jump on the technology bandwagon when it appeared that the use of Big Data was going to help the Democrats. Many Republicans can still be considered “political Luddites” when it comes to the use of technology to connect with their constituents and help with their campaigning. Thus, Republicans are already several touchdowns behind in the game.
Democrats were probably helped most in the last election by their targeted efforts to get out the vote. By gathering data on ethnicity, race, and economic status of the residents of various districts, they were able to predict who would be more likely to vote Democratic and concentrate their efforts on getting these people to the polls. With their data gathering, they were also able to determine which messages would resonate best with undecided and independent voters to influence these people to support Democratic candidates.
Big Data is probably of greatest value in presidential races and of reduced value in House races and contests for lesser offices. This is because sample sizes may be too small to permit analysis of the data to provide accurate information for the candidates. In addition, retail campaigning for these offices is of greater importance than in races for the Senate or the presidency. And of course, gerrymandering has provided candidates with “safe” districts, where a solid majority of the constituents vote for a particular party (usually Republican) and cannot be swayed by information that contradicts their mind set.
Demographics provide a major obstacle for the Republican Party in the future that even Big Data will not be able to help them overcome. Young people and minorities strongly favor the stances of the Democratic Party on important issues, and unless Republican policies change, they will not
garner the votes of these large blocs. The GOP may still provide obstructionism in the House and through the Senate filibuster, but they will not be able to lead the nation in the direction they prefer.