Why Big Data Won’t Save Republicans…and Neither Will Social Media

Talk about timing: just Monday a group of Republican notables working with the RNC put a plan to revive the party, and here at Epolitics.com, we already had a response ready to roll. The RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project report hasn’t been well received in all quarters (too say the least), with plenty of conservatives dismissing it as just another plan by the elites to marginalize the party’s grassroots in favor of dreaded Centrists. The interesting angle from our point of view was the part — reported early by Yahoo News — that urges the party to create a data infrastructure to power the kind of voter targeting at which the Obama campaign (among others) has excelled.

So, can big data save the Republican Party? If not, what about social media, which has also been touted as a potential source of salvation? Just a few weeks ago I handed the Campaigns and Elections folks the latest TechBytes column, and we rushed it online ahead of the print edition this week to take advantage of its discussion of both social media and data in terms of a Republican revival. Let’s start with the social angle:

…for a genuinely popular movement to arise, you need ideas and candidates that generate enthusiasm, along with a large enough group of people who are open to joining in….Social media will be a part of any Republican resurgence in the near future — the tools are simply too politically useful to ignore. And with the right message and the right messenger, Republicans could set social media alight if they find the proper moment. Absent any of those three factors, though, Republicans will simply be rolling a rock up a hill, again and again.

Next, big data:

Republicans are certainly no strangers to political data. Their 2004 microtargeting turnout operation is still lauded by political professionals as both innovative and successful. But as with social media, using data to find persuadable voters depends on the existence of a sizable pool of persuadable voters. Data can help campaigns identify the people who may be open to supporting them, but data won’t create that pool of potential supporters. The people actually need to be there in the first place for data mining techniques to pinpoint them, making data no more of a panacea than social media.

Head over to the C&E site for the whole article, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed — even though you may disagree.


Written by
Colin Delany
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