After months of speculation about whether he would reject big data analytics and go it alone, US presidential candidate Donald Trump has chosen to go with Cambridge Analytica, the UK firm which is said to have masterminded Britain’s exit from the European Union, according to NationalReview.com.
Trump had previously said he thought big data analytics was overrated, and felt it was a candidate’s personality that wins the votes and the election.
He cited Barack Obama as an example of someone whose personality won him many votes. While that may be true, the fact is that both of Obama’s successful presidential runs were fuelled by the most intensive data-analytics campaigns ever seen.
Journalists reporting on the 2008 US election say the Obama campaign gathered so much information on the electorate that it knew the names of each and every one of at least 70 million Americans who voted for him.
Obama’s Democratic Party has since gone even further, setting new benchmarks for the utilisation of big data analytics, and current Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton is the beneficiary.
Clinton’s campaign team uses a number of different companies, including BlueLabs, L2, NGP VAN, and Nationbuilder. The party is also currently using data analytics to micro-target voters, meaning the party knows in microscopic detail what each and every voter is likely to do come the election in November.
But while the Democrats were busy building a data mountain, Trump’s Republican Party seemed reluctant to accept the apparently obvious fact that the effective utilisation of big data wins elections.
Now they seem willing to play catch-up, and have hired Cambridge Analytica.
Will the real Mr Brexit please stand up?
Trump has become known as something of a prolific tweeter, and has been caught up in many Twitter controversies as a result of tweets considered by some observers to be either offensive or wrong.
But in a recent tweet, Trump got cryptic, and tweeted something about a “Mr Brexit”, which many thought referred to Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip, especially as Farage turned up and gave a speech at a Trump rally last week.
However, in the past few days, some observers have been speculating that the person whom Trump was actually referring to is Robert Mercer, the owner of Cambridge Analytica and a hedge fund billionaire.
Cambridge Analytica is sometimes referred to as a data mining firm, and specialises in what it calls “psychographic” profiling. It was said to be part of the successful “Leave.eu” campaign, which many people even in the UK may not have heard of, but which has apparently helped decide the country’s course for the future.
In a message to its supporters during the Brexit campaign, Cambridge Analytica claimed to be world leaders in target voter messaging, and said it hired the best people in the world to help map the British electorate and what they believe in, enabling the campaign to better engage with the voters.
“Most elections are fought using demographic and socio-economic data,” said Leave.eu in the statement. “Cambridge Analytica’s psychographic methodology, however, is on another level of sophistication.”
Cambridge Analytica has, however, denied that the company had worked for either side of the campaign – to leave or remain in the EU.
Update on June 16th, 2017: In an interview with Sky News, Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, said: “We’ve really been quite consistent to explaining to your colleagues in the press over very many months that we didn’t work for any of the campaigns that were involved in Brexit.”
The company has not, however, denied the work it has done for Donald Trump, but given that much of the real work of big data analytics remains in the dark because it doesn’t make for good television, there is a chance that Cambridge Analytica’s campaign may only be discussed after Trump and the Republicans win.
On the other hand, given that the Clinton Democrat machine is virtually running on big data alone, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Brexit means a Trump win.