Special report: Big data and the 2012 presidential election

What big data means for the ballot

By Emily Poe

Politics and statistics go hand in hand. In 18 of the last 28 U.S. presidential elections, the taller of the two candidates has won the race for the White House. Winners have also tended to raise more money, generate bigger ad campaigns and recruit more volunteers than their opponents.

But when it comes to the presidential election and data, is bigger always better?

In 2012, the answer seems to be yes. Everywhere you look, from Marketplace to InformationWeek to Forbes, you can find articles about the 2012 election and big data. Many are calling this the "big data election." And while the 2012 race may be one of big data's biggest elections, this isn't its first.

Going back as early as 2004, presidential candidates have relied on data mining to find and analyze as much information as they can about voters.

What's changed in this election is the sheer amount of data out there. Thanks to the pervasiveness of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), as well as more advanced online voter-tracking methods, campaigns are able to gather more information and data about voters than ever before. They can even target ads to voters' preferences using big data analytics--one strategy the Romney campaign has used this election season. 

The Obama campaign employed a digital data organizing tool for door-to-door canvassing, which informs canvassers of a specific voter's preferences and history before they even put their fingers on the door bell.

In our special report, we examine these and other ways that both camps have utilized big data analytics during their 2012 campaigns, as well as how social media and big data have changed the election process. 

Of course, it will be hard to tell what kind of effect big data analytics has had on the outcome of the presidential election until all the ballots and Electoral College votes have been counted. But today--with only five days left until Super Tuesday--one thing in sure: Big data has secured a spot in presidential politics.

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