The use of Big Data in presidential politics date back to the work of the Bush team in 2004. Remember, this was big data before it was Big Data and W’s campaign staff utilized data mining to ensure victories in swing states such as Florida and Ohio. In 2008, then-Senator Obama brought in engineers from Silicon Valley to build algorithms to power fundraising and messaging.
The effort proved so successful that now President Obama hired more than 50 data scientists to work on his reelection campaign in 2012.
Fast forward to 2016, amongst the plethora of issues which divide the red and blue candidates is their use of Big Data. Whilst the Republicans are using a measure of data science in their campaign, the candidate recently told The Wall Street Journal, “I’ve always felt it was overrated.” 
The effective use of data not only drives engagement, but it also increases the productivity of campaigns.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are embracing the use of Big Data like never before. Not only is the campaign relying on Big Data to power internal polls, but even the choice of Tim Kaine as running mate was based on insights drawn from analytics. Mainly, the potential to attract “center-right” Republicans if the Democrats chose a moderate for Vice President.
Whilst the Republican candidate’s penchant for demagoguery cannot be ignored when looking at his recent performance in the polls, one could postulate the Democrat’s ability to stay on message, especially in swing states, has helped to secure her lead in the campaign’s early days. This is due to the campaign’s ability to use data to target and engage likely voters – not unlike a consumer products company would do.
This begs a question: what are the tactical advantages of utilizing Big Data in the race for the White House? The answers actually indicate the revolution which is taking place in marketing and advertisement. Gone are the days of “mass media” blasting the same message over and over again. Instead, this has been replaced by granularity in research and “mass personalization”.
When the votes are counted on November 8, the campaign that wins will be the one who did a better job of sifting through immense amounts of data and found the connections. Potential data points include tax records, credit histories, donations. Yet this “hard data” will only get a candidate so far. The next step is marrying this information with psychographic determinants.
Thanks to social media, a treasure trove of information on personal likes, dislikes, interests, and values are now publicly available. Putting this information together allows a campaign to weigh the probability that an individual (no longer a group) voter will select a certain candidate. In many ways, this getting small with Big Data could decide whether we all want to move to Canada next year.
Another aspect of the data advantage is the use of mobile by the candidates. Given that millennials now comprise the largest population cohort in the country, the impetus to adopt mobile as a key part of a campaign’s tactical approach has never been more important. Even third-party candidates, such as Libertarian Party Gary Johnson, are getting into the act.
Mobile has become the new focus group for campaigns in the digital age.
From a data perspective, the magic is not the app or even the functionality – everyone has baked SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) into their UX. It is the information collected by the app on a particular voter. In this case, which issues did users click and share? From here, the campaigns can form and test hypotheses on how to best engage with likely voters.
Out of this mountain of data points emerges the broader messages the campaigns use for cable news and the Sunday morning talk shows. As such, mobile has become the new focus group for campaigns in the digital age.
If mobile drives relevance, then Big Data drives operational excellence. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “candidates who have put mobile technology to good use have been able to save significant time and money getting in front of people.”  One example given was the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Even though the Senator from Vermont lacked the resources, the septuagenarian’s message electrified millions of voters during the Democratic primaries. Even when pundits predicted he would run out of money, the campaign was able to keep going.
One way they were able to achieve this was by using technology. Just about every modern campaign uses personalized call lists. However, most candidates rely on expensive call centers. The Sanders campaign asked volunteers to use their own smartphones instead. The result was tens of millions in savings.
In addition, the Sanders campaign was able to use big data and small technology (i.e. smartphones and social media) to organize rallies all over the country with a fraction of the organization of his opponent. The Democrats were not the only ones using tech as a force multiplier. The staff of Senator Ted Cruz relied on mobile tools to accept contributions as they were made. Not only did this speed up the candidate’s cash cycle, but staffers could use the transaction as an opportunity to collect data on the donor as well.
According to a recent article in the Economist, the effective use of Big Data could be the difference maker in a close election – potentially adding “between two and three percentage points to a candidate’s result.” 
Not everyone is convinced. Researchers David Tuffley and Bela Stantic recently proved blindly tracking Twitter comments to ascertain who will win the election is faulty at best. Sentiment analysis in July gave a clear advantage to the Republicans; however, the result has become “less certain”  in recent weeks. Recognizing the potential for error, Tuffley and Stantic recommended Big Data practitioners integrate what is known as The Human Approach – think of it as cognition for large data sets.
Will Big Data alone win the race for the White House? Probably not, but judging by the arms race between Democrats and Republicans, it has become an important weapon in their arsenal. The effective use of data not only drives engagement, but it also increases the productivity of campaigns. With Election Day less than three months away, whichever campaign better executes their Big Data plan will most likely have the advantage in the race for the White House.
 Source: Crovitz, L.G., The Wall Street Journal. Trump’s Big Data Gamble. 24 July 2016. http://goo.gl/BgUrmx. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
 Source: Moatti, S.C. Harvard Business Review. 3 Things to Watch as the Digital Side of the U.S. Presidential Campaigns Unfold. 14 July 2016. https://goo.gl/WO5CKG. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
 Source: The Economist. Politics by Numbers. 26 March 2016. http://goo.gl/40xxhI. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
 Source: Tuffley, D; Stantic, B. Phys.org. Can big data studies know your thoughts and predict who will win an election? 9 August 2016. http://goo.gl/NrHhCc. Retrieved 10 August 2016.