On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama was elected to a second term in office. In a world of technology and political punditry, the big winner is Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger at Five Thirty Eight. (Break out your dictionaries: a psephologist is a national figure.)
After he correctly called all 50 states, Silver is being celebrated as the “king of the quants” by CNET and the “nerdy Chuck Norris” by Wired. The combined success of statistical models from Silver, TPM PollTracker, HuffPost Pollster, RealClearPolitics Average, and the Princeton Election Consortium all make traditional “horse race journalism” that uses insider information from the campaign trail to explain what’s really going on look a bit, well, antiquated. With the rise of political data science, the Guardian even went so far as to say that big data may sound the death knell for punditry.
This election season should serve, in general, as a wake-up call for data-illiterate journalists. It was certainly a triumph of logic over punditry. At this point, it’s fair to “predict” that Silver’s reputation and the role of data analysis will continue to endure, long after 2012.
The data campaign
The other big tech story to emerge from the electoral fray, however, is the how the campaigns themselves used technology. What social media was to 2008, data-driven campaigning was in 2012. In the wake of this election, people who understand math, programming and data science will be in even higher demand as a strategic advantage in campaigns, from getting out the vote to targeting and persuading voters.
For political scientists and campaign staff, the story of the quants and data crunchers who helped President Obama win will be pored over and analyzed for years to come. For those wondering how the first big data election played out, Sarah Lai Stirland’s analysis of how Obama’s digital infrastructure helped him win re-election is a must-read, as is Nick Judd’s breakdown of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s digital campaign. The Obama campaign found voters in battleground states that their opponents apparently didn’t know existed. The exit polls suggest that finding and turning out the winning coalition of young people, minorities and women was critical — and data-driven campaigning clearly played a role.
For added insight on the role of data in this campaign, watch O’Reilly Media’s special online conference on big data and elections, from earlier this year. (It’s still quite relevant.) The archive is embedded below:
For more resources and analysis of the growing role of big data in elections and politics, read on.
If you’re new to the topic, this list of videos and articles should be useful.
In October, I joined other journalists and digital media experts to discuss Al Jazeera’s “The Stream” for a show on “data mining the U.S. Election.”
For a look back at some of the best news and commentary on big data and politics, read the following links:
Patrick Ruffini: “Goodbye, polling. Hello, Big Data.”
Tech President: “Election 2012: It’s Not Facebook. It’s The Data, Stupid.”
Campaigns & Elections: “Big Data Is A Big Factor in 2012.”
Politico: “Obama’s Data Advantage”
Tech President: “Zac Moffatt Talks Digital Strategy”
New York Times: “Campaigns Mine Personal Lives to Get Out Vote”
Slate: “Obama does it better.”