Let’s Talk About Politics and Data

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Let’s Talk About Politics and Data


“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” – Jim Barksdale

I set out to write an article about politics and data….then social media… or then technology but no…. I was finding it difficult to properly frame this discussion when it comes to data and politics. What data was I referring to? How are we using it? And Politics is kind of a broad word?

So I stopped and took it to the roots.

Voting in an election is the way most Americans engage in politics. Voting is a subjective process. The decision on a particular political candidate may be determined based on some objective information, but we mix in our personal experience and an opinion is formed. From this opinion, we make a subjective decision on who is best to hold a particular office.

Data or the collection of data, in its natural state is an objective process. It is the collection of statistics or facts that are hard to dispute if the collection is correct and untainted. No matter what the information may be, the collection of data doesn’t interject experience or opinion, it is what it is. Therefore, to talk about data and politics is almost like comparing night and day. They are not two peas in a pod.

Many people believe this was one of the major reasons Obama, a political beginner, was so successful in 2008. (source). Tech and data was on his side, and his team knew how to use it. One of the many reasons, data wise, people are shocked that Trump has been successful, is that in 2012, Romney got it wrong based on the data they were collecting. It is said that Romney didn’t even write a concession speech, because they were convinced based on polling data, he was going to win. Trump’s collection of data and polling internally has been more on target. Don’t believe me about Romney, it’s well documented, in articles here  and here.

But here’s the thing, the main reason Romney’s polling data was incorrect was due to false calculation of how millennials, minorities and democrats were going to show up to vote in support of Obama. Their poll data predicted wrong, however, was it due to subjectivity? Assumptions about different sets of the population and how they would act proved to be wrong based on historical information. Or did they interject a little subjectivity and manipulate the data to their advantage for a moment, only for it to be a source of utter shock and disappointment later.

So basically, we want to collect data like Obama and not like Romney? Not exactly.

Joe Trippi, a veteran in media and politics, had some interesting points about politics and tech in 2016.

“We (Howard Dean’s Campaign) used the internet for two things in 2004. We went around the media and party leadership to create our own network of supporters and small donors…We were able to get hundreds of thousands of people to connect together online, and to contribute millions of dollars to the campaign. We ended up breaking Bill Clinton’s record for the most ever raised by a Democrat. Obama obliterated our record by using our methods, four years later….In 2008, in particular, they really innovated and continued to empower people…..In 2012, things started to flatten out. There was less emphasis on innovation that empowered people, and more innovation focused on data mining and analytics. By 2016, there has been almost nothing new that really matters. Most of the campaigns are just trying to catch up with 2008 and 2012, and most of the focus has moved from empowering people, to frankly, manipulating people in a targeted way.” (source)

And that’s scary. When technology infiltrated politics it was used to empower people, but it does seem more and more, people are using it to tell them what they want or convince people a story based on misconstrued data. But in the case of Romney, when you put too much subjectivity in data, it will hurt you. And that takes me back to the beginning, about data being objective and voting being subjective.

There is one major takeaway from researching politics and data:

Ignoring data, because you “think” people will act different is basically admitting that you’re from the Flintstone age. Believe the data, collect the right data, and then act subjectively, in your political activities. This is why Michael Moore, too many people’s discomfort, predicts Trump will win, because people are ignoring the numbers that are showing up and out for Trump. It’s almost the reverse of the Romney situation. People, as subjective beings, and choosing to ignore data, or creating stories to make it appear one way as since were robots, we will follow suit. The one thing the American people have proved over time. We can surprise you, but data, when collected properly, isn’t lying to you.

The most important piece of collected data, that continues to as objective as you can get, continues to be ignored:

  • 80% of the voting population hasn’t turned out to vote since 1896.
  • 70% of the voting population hasn’t turned out to vote since 1904
  • 60% of the voting population hasn’t turned out to vote since 1968
  • About 50% of America votes and 50% of America doesn’t vote. (source)

What are you going to do? Go Vote or keeping ignoring the data.

Please share your comments below!


You can check out more from Jackie-Monroe at www.missingperspective.com 

Also published on Medium.