Big data is giving businesses across the world a competitive advantage, and it may also be an important tool for political parties in future elections.
The ability to generate, collate and analyse large data sets is proving to be invaluable to businesses and is changing the way in which they market to their customers. Through data analytics, businesses are now able to understand their customers in ways that they never could before, which is enabling them to conduct online marketing in a much more targeted way.
Given the benefits of big data for the business world, the political world is now also looking to capitalise on the insights that data can provide and apply a targeted approach to political campaigning. In recent campaigns in the UK and US, mass data sets were compiled and analysed in order to generate information about the potential voter base. This allowed campaigners to target, and send tailored messages to, individual voters.
Could similar tactics be used in New Zealand? The failure of "Jacindamania" to push Labour over the line in the recent election shows us that personality politics may capture attention, but may not necessarily capture votes. This suggests that it is the message, not just the person delivering it, that is key. This may seem trite, but the question is, which message will resonate with a voter and not just simply be disregarded as 'business as usual' electioneering, which the vast majority of voters ignore.
The ability of a political party to send the right message to the right people is clearly important, if not determinative, as each individual voter has a unique set of interests that shape their political behaviour. Many of these voters will unconsciously (or consciously) create a record of these interests through their online activities and interactions, which means that there could be a wealth of data available to political campaigners, and this data could be powerful in the hands of those who know how to use it.
Big data may not be the kingmaker in New Zealand politics, or at least not yet, but there will almost certainly be a place for it in future elections as parties leverage that data when developing policies to appeal to New Zealand voters, and when matching and tailoring policy messaging to New Zealand voters.
Data is also increasingly important as the political battleground moves to social media, and as parties try to target the non-voting youth who, if mobilised, could tip the balance of power.
Campaigners in Britain and the United States are reputed to have used billions of data points to build pyschographic profiles of millions of voters so they could send individualised messages to get them either to vote for their candidate, or not to vote at all. These techniques rely on building huge banks of data from electoral rolls, financial records, spending records and the liking, sharing and posting records of Facebook users to understand exactly who a voter is, where they live, what they do every day, what their political views are, and, most importantly, how likely they are to change their vote.