nc bc cc 10%Our national election occurs on Tuesday November 8 and I urge you to vote however your heart and mind lead you, but I also want to tell you who will be our next President and one significant reason why I believe that candidate will succeed.

The important point I want to demonstrate is far beyond a single election because the matter at issue is the future of American democracy.

In 2008 the Obama campaign produced an unprecedented combination of data analysis, social media and campaign outreach to win the Presidency.

The data analysis aspect used new techniques in what is commonly known as data-mining or big data analytics.

Both Democrats and Republicans have long kept databases of voters; you and I and every other eligible voter in the US is in these data-sets.

What Obama’s campaign innovated was a 100 item index that pulls from public and for-sale data sources such that every voter is categorized by education level, home ownership and value, permits and licenses, magazine subscriptions, charitable contributions and much more.General_election_polls_2016_Clinton_v_Trump

The campaign also buys data from companies such as Facebook to track which ads you click on and who your friends are.

The Democrat campaign knows more about you than you know about yourself in the sense that you may forget some of the details while their database, called “Catalyst,” does not.

The campaign technicians render all this data into a 1-5 scale that assigns probabilities to 2 behaviors for every voter: whether they will vote and who they will vote for.

What the campaign does with those ratings is the key to their electoral strategy because those individual profiles based in huge correlations of personal data are used to produce campaign tactics aimed specifically at you and voters like you; this tactic is called micro-targeting.

One way that micro-targeting is used was revealed when the Obama campaign recruited 2 million volunteers through Facebook and then provided each of them with instructions for door-to-door visits with specific individuals based on their ratings in Catalyst.

Another use of micro-targeting is to assign campaign ads to individual social media users. The political ads that you see on social media may well have been crafted uniquely for you, at least if they are from the Democrat campaigns.

Moreover the reactions of micro-targeted individuals are gathered and fed back to the database creating a dynamic loop that is capable of measuring large group responses based on tracking behaviors of individuals within the group.

After the 2008 election victory Obama directed the data analysts on his campaign to develop ways to use that technology for conducting White House policy efforts and called the resulting system “Legacy.”51i-UovOAYL._SY346_

This ultra-sophisticated use of data analysis to conduct a political campaign is studied in a fascinating book, Hacking the Electorate: How Campaigns Perceive Voters by Yale political scientist Eitan D. Hersh.

In addition to describing how political data-analysis and micro-targeting work, Hersh postulates that the sources of public data that campaigns draw from are likely to skew the data-set to preference some voter characteristics over others; for instance consider the data sources in which individuals are classified by race.

Why does any of this matter to you?

It matters because human beings have a peculiar relationship with our own thoughts in two ways.

The first is that it is hard for us to distinguish between our subjective feeling of certainty and the objective degree to which a claim about the world is certain.

For example, in this column I am claiming to know who will win the 2016 election.

In fact I cannot know that for certain because all sorts of events could occur to prevent that from happening, so I am really asserting a probability of an outcome based upon assumptions about the conditions.

LW268-MC-Escher-Hand-with-Reflecting-Sphere-1935Still, in my gut I feel totally certain about it despite being a skeptic about most things, and cannot convince my subjective sense to entertain more doubt.

The second peculiarity of human thought is while you and I know what we think and believe, we typically do not know where those thoughts and beliefs came from.

Try it yourself; consider some of the ideas (thoughts and beliefs) that you feel strongly about. Where did you get those ideas? Were you born with them? Were they taught to you? Did you inherit them? Did you discover them or make them up yourself?

If you are like most of us, then even the thoughts that you feel most certain about do not provide you with signs of their origins.

I am confident that you have reasons in favor of those ideas, but are those reasons actually the causes from which you formed the belief in the first place or are they premises that you developed to justify a belief that you already held?

Attend closely and I think that you will find that it is not easy to be sure about the workings of your own mind.

Why does this matter? Because there are interest groups who work hard to put ideas into your mind and once an idea is in your mind it is likely that you will experience it as certain and true, largely because it presents itself as your own idea.

To put it as clearly as I may: if I can get an idea into your mind and also get you to view it as your own idea, then I have succeeded at manipulating your mind.6914441342_605f947885_z

The manipulation of beliefs – the deliberate changing of people’s minds – is an ancient practice that we find today in advertisers, propagandists, magicians, preachers and teachers.

This mental manipulation is what the data-driven campaign is designed to do.

To be fair, politicians have sought to understand the public mind and put ideas into the minds of the people since at least ancient Greece.

Data-driven campaigning is not new, although the technological sophistication produces an unprecedented level of control over messaging.

That brings me to my prediction that Clinton will be elected President by a wide margin with the Democrats taking the Senate and making gains in the House.

That may not seem like a bold prediction to you because it has become common wisdom on the eve of the election, but I am basing my view on the uses by the Clinton campaign of whatever the Catalyst data-base has become.

One point to draw from this observation is that a candidate’s campaign foreshadows what their administration will be like.

Clinton’s campaign, like the Obama campaigns, are highly organized, disciplined and data-driven.

I view organization and discipline as positive attributes of an executive administration and they stand in stark contrast to the Trump campaign which spent more money on “Make America Great Again” hats than on data analysis.

However you evaluate these facts the reality of contemporary political dynamics calls for rigorous critical thinking about the messages that you receive and believe, if you care about your individual freedom as a thinker.

The future of the American political system is all about data and the more that you know about those processes, the better equipped you will be as a citizen and voter.


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