Next month voters in the United States will cast ballots for the next president of their country, among other political races and referenda. What is different in this election year than in previous presidential contests is social media and what campaigns can do with the data generated there. Although Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites existed in the 2008 election, they did not have the massive membership that they do today, and Google+, with its growing 400 million users, did not exist.
In 2012, social media sites have jumped into the political arena with both feet. For example, Facebook has partnered with CNN for an “I’m Voting” app, both to encourage people to vote and to generate data about voter preferences. Twitter is using sentiment analysis of tweets to create its Twitter Political Index, a daily snapshot of how tweeps “feel” about the two major party candidates.
All this information from potential voters themselves is unprecedented in American politics. And it’s persuaded some political analysts to salivate at its potential to sway each voter toward their candidate. As one political consultant told Forbes magazine, “Big data enables very precise narrowcasting of messages to target individual voters. That also enables one-one-one communication, and you’re more likely to get a response from a targeted voter.”
The problem is that the response from that targeted voter might just be the opposite of what a campaign manager might expect. Recent survey data from the Annenberg School of Communications reveal that an astonishing 86% of Americans say they abhor political promotions tailored specifically to them as individuals. That figure is well above the 61% who reject product and service advertisement directed to their person.
Worse for campaigns awash in big data, 64% of potential voters say such individualized political advertising would decrease their chances of voting for the candidate who targeted them. Further, if a candidate sends advertisements to their friends if they themselves “like” a candidate’s Facebook page, the likelihood of voting for the candidate decreases among 70% in the survey.
Privacy and trust are at the center of Americans’ concern here. Many are already leery about trusting their information privacy on social networks. So, given that politicians are overwhelmingly viewed as “the least trusted profession” in the U.S., exploiting the targeting power of big data with political promotions in this election cycle looks like a lost cause.