August 20, 2019

Technology and Politics:Identifying Trends and Monitoring Outcomes, The Coming Revolution in America

So, you thought your vote was anonymous! Not quite so. In fact since the early years of this decade, a new electoral science has emerged that allows politicians and their advisors to know exactly how you are likely to vote. As early as 2006 Democratic operatives would establish a data-oriented operation known as Catalist in order to focus on liberal voters, labor unions, and other progressive-based organizations, identifying their political passions and orientation.

Barack Obama in 2008 ran a “data driven” campaign, employing technology that would permit him to direct his energies and political focus on those voters who were most likely to be his targets. But even since his first presidential campaign, “it has become possible to target voters individually, thanks to the availability of ever more data as well as ever cheaper computing power and better methods to mine them.”[1]

Not only was the Obama campaign to more effectively target its voter base but also fundraising efforts would likewise be perfected to identify specific donor traits. This capacity to sculpt out such particular patterns would not be unique to the Democrats as the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012 would likewise take advantage of such campaign data patterns.

Several startup groups have begun to market their skills at campaign analytics. Voter Vault has emerged as a Republican database organization, while VoteBuilder and Civics Analytics are serving the Democratic Party. Other firms have now entered this specialty field; for example, the Koch Brothers would invest their resources, following the Romney defeat, to create their own conservative-oriented approach. 1360 is a for-profit firm that now competes in the marketplace representing Republican candidates.

The general consensus is that such databases can add two to three percent to a candidate’s political totals. Of course in highly contested campaigns such additional support can transform an election outcome.

This technology will also permit campaigns to target specific voters or groups of voters with personalized messages and information as part of a social network outreach effort. Such regular updates and tweets allow the candidate to remain connected to his/her voter base.

How has this focus on data-driven campaigning been relevant to the Jewish vote? Just as analysts have identified other socio-cultural trends among voters, this research has permitted political campaigns to target high-density Jewish precincts and to monitor specific voting patterns over a significant time frame. Individuals who donate to campaigns are generally tracked, as to their patterns of support for specific causes and candidates.

It is the general belief on the part of political scientists and computer experts that the science of political campaigning is only in its infancy, ultimately permitting candidates access to an extraordinary amount of information pertaining to their voter cohorts. In the process this new access to donors, voters, and interest groups will reinvent the model of political organizing and campaigning.

[1] “Technology and Politics” in the Economist, March 26, 2016, page 6

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles.  His writings appear on his website,