Election Day has once again come and gone. Incumbents are ousted, bills are passed, and the political ads have finally stopped, so now the fallout begins. But regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, there’s one thing you can be sure of: lobbying groups and political campaigns have utilized Big Data to try to secure your vote and will place an increasing amount of importance on it. On a smaller level, data analysis has been happening in this realm for years, but really, it became huge during President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

During that campaign, Obama’s team assembled a huge staff of analysts to work with the terabytes of collected voter data. The results of their analytics included a number of strategies to target specific constituents and disseminate information and donation requests to them based on exactly the issues that matter most to them. For the voter, that not only reduces the noise in their emails, it personalizes the election and, as we’ve seen plenty of times through the years, people tend to vote for someone to whom they feel a personal connection.

People felt that connection to Obama in 2008 through his particular personality and brand of speaking; while none of that changed much over the following four years, 2012 saw him reach audiences through the use of data, as well.

As much as Big Data is being used by American politicians, they aren’t the leaders in it. In India’s elections earlier this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used their mountains of data to secure funds, advertise, and organize events directed toward, again, putting a personal face on the election. BJP leader Narendra Modi is now India’s prime minister and has reached out to the world using the same strategies. His six million Twitter followers would suggest that they work.

Then we have the BBC. We’ve already seen their innovative uses of Big Data and Linked Data for BBC Nature and the 2012 Olympics, but for the UK elections this past May, they devised a system by which they could aggregate their data and disseminate news and information in sophisticated, highly useful ways. In this case, it’s more about analysis to serve their own reporting, but the way richness with which they were able to deliver the news to their readers and viewers was nothing short of fantastic.

These are three strong examples of how Big Data, Linked Data, and semantic enrichment are changing the way election campaigns are conducted and covered for the better, but all three are top-down processes. By that, I mean that in all these cases, we are being directed to look at or think about particular subjects and issues. But in this increasingly interconnected online world, I’m not the only person who would rather direct myself, to tell myself what issues are important to me.

In their Olympics coverage, they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Linked Data can be effectively used to make knowledge easy to access for the individual. You might recognize all the members of the gold-medal winning women’s gymnastic team; we couldn’t hear enough about them during the event. What about the Russian team that won the silver though? We don’t hear much about them, but going to the BBC website would not only tell you their names, but where they’re from, what other events they’ve competed in, and much, much more. Elections are far more important than the Olympics, so why not do the exact same thing with candidates?

We know what the ballot will look like well in advance. All that would have to happen to get this process started is to lay that out on a publicly accessible website. Each candidate would have a link attached that would take the viewer to a page for the individual. From there, we could see the voting history of candidate X, other candidates who voted alongside her, links to campaign speeches, writings, and news reports on the person, as well, most likely, as many things that I can’t think up right now.

We could do the same thing with ballot measures with little additional trouble. For these, we could look at a particular measure’s history, others like it voted on previously or in other regions, reporting on it, and all sorts of statistics.

All of this is in the service of information and knowledge, which helps us as voters make more reasoned, coherent decisions. We are being monitored constantly in service of directed advertising, whether it’s in the political spectrum or elsewhere. On a personal level, I don’t really care about that, but there’s no good reason why we couldn’t have access to candidate data in an easily digestible form. The information is out there, but it’s a lot of labor for individuals to take on by ourselves. I hope the day soon comes when I’ll be able to go to a single place and learn what I need so that I make the best possible decisions while in the voting booth.

Obviously, I’m hugely impressed with how the BBC has embraced this new philosophy about they way they deliver their content. They’ve made it easy for individuals to collect knowledge in all kinds of realms. Now, they don’t have what I’m looking for, either, but between the Olympic Data Service and Vote 2014, it’s clear they have both the mindset and capability to make it happen. When will media outlets on this side of the pond follow suit? Quickly, I hope.

Daryl Loomis
Access Innovations