Politicians Have a Scary Amount of Voter Info
According to a new story in the Los Angeles Times, modern political campaigns are using advanced data profiles to roll out the most targeted candidacies in human history. With significant help from companies like Rocket Fuel, these candidates are able to dig surprisingly deep into consumer demographics to determine which voters might be persuaded to the polls.
From the paper:
When presidential candidates turn to data crunchers at Rocket Fuel in Silicon Valley for help finding voters who want tougher immigration enforcement, the firm comes up with a surprisingly specific answer: Chevy truck drivers who like Starbucks.
The data modeling from Rocket Fuel shows that this group leans against a path to citizenship for workers in the U.S. illegally. And these particular voters have become surprisingly easy – some argue creepily so – for campaigns to find and approach. So have consumers of frozen vegetables, who are more likely to oppose abortion. As have people curious about diabetes, a group that tends to settle on a candidate early in the race.
While this level of analysis is disturbing on its face, the problem is not limited to the amount of information these campaigns have access to. There are also security concerns; these campaigns, constructed and demolished within a few months, are not held to the same security standards as long-term retail businesses. In fact, many of today’s campaigns would be forced to shut down if they were private industries with the same lax approach to protecting consumer data.
“Some do not even have clear privacy policies posted on their websites, which would be grounds for a private business to have their site shut down under both federal and California law, according to the Online Trust Alliance,” says the article.
Of course, when you get into the murky world of regulating these campaigns, issues arise almost instantly. For one thing, don’t we want politicians to know more about the people they are aiming to represent? For another, how can we ever expect the same politicians who depend on this data to get elected to then turn around and dismantle what has been a very effective strategy? It could be said that without this advanced form of campaigning, President Obama would never have been elected.
The better approach is education. We’ve moved into a new age of privacy concerns, and too many Americans have been slow to realize it. We’re so used to filling in forms on this website or that one that we rarely stop to think about what those sites are doing with our information. That’s aside from the fact that many Americans willingly post their life stories on social media. Companies and campaigns alike are using this information to bring about a new age of targeted advertising.
It’s good for the politicians. It’s good for retailers. The only question is whether or not it’s good for the American people.