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Despite It Being 'Overrated', Donald Trump Is Using Data, But To What Ends?

His campaign is creating huge amounts of data, but why?

2Nov

We have previously discussed Donald Trump's dislike for data, with him having publicly referred to it as 'overrated'. In fact, in our article, we claimed that it was only in May 2016 that he had hired a pollster to his team, which was shocking at the time. However, it seems that the Trump team, despite the outward showing of hatred towards data and analytics, has been doing considerable work behind the scenes, creating an impressive data science team based in San Jose.

In a recent article from Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg in Bloomberg Businessweek, we found out several things about the campaign's data operations, including:

- The campaign spends $100,000 every week on surveys

- His own campaign polling has found that he has a low chance of winning, despite the public statements, with Brad Parscale, one of Trump's closest advisors who runs data operations, saying 'Nate Silver’s [founder of fivethirtyeight.com] results have been similar to ours'

- They are utilizing social media data in an attempt to suppress voters in demographics unlikely to vote for Trump, including white liberal idealists, young women, and black people.

- The team has found unconventional, and in some cases spammy, methods to gain small political donations, in their first email blast 60% of their emails were caught in spam filters

However, the most interesting element is that data has actually guided much of Trump’s campaign, despite the commonly held belief that much of it has been haphazard and reactive, largely to negative things that Trump has said about minorities, women, or political opponents. For instance, the location of his rallies is chosen through Cambridge Analytica’s ranking of the places in any given state with the largest clusters of persuadable voters. We have also seen some of the questionable things he has said were actually data-driven, with the Bloomberg story claiming:

'Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are 'super predators' is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls — particularly in Florida.'

Trump has also created a huge fundraising database known as Project Alamo, which now has 100 dedicated members of staff, all paid for by the trump campaign (rather than the RNC). The database isn't just data collected by Trump, though, it includes the full $100 million RNC database created after Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012 was blamed on a lack of data effort compared to Barack Obama's team. It has then been added to by the campaign to include significantly more data, making this list worth between $36 million and $112 million.

All of this is having a considerably higher impact on Donald Trump's words and action on the campaign trail than many would believe, but the really brilliant thing he may be doing isn't on the path to the White House, but after he's either lost the election or left office after winning.

This is because regardless of whether or not Donald Trump wins the election, his historical business plan is in ruins, given that it is focussed on putting his name on luxury buildings, hotels, and golf courses in order to give them the gravitas that his name represented. However, recent figures from an online poll from Morning Consult have shown that 40% of voters said that his campaign made them less likely to buy his products, 46% said they wouldn't stay in a Trump hotel and 63% said they wouldn't use one of his golf courses. This represents a problem for Trump, given that he hasn't been making money from building things himself, but has instead licensed his name to luxury developments, if there are huge swathes of the population who are actively against the name, nobody is going to license it.

However, this list gives him a significant amount of power that can be exploited in either a political or commercial way.

Some believe that it will allow him to create a powerful right wing or alt-right media empire, given the Trump campaign's employment of Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News and Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart news. It would create a strong foundation of those likely to watch a network focussed on the issues often discussed during the campaign.

The second idea is that the campaign is trying to splinter the Republican party, which would fit with the continued narrative of criticizing party leaders such as Paul Ryan and John McCain, whilst also spearing 'the system'. Having this database of his own supporters, combined with the wider party membership, would allow him and his supporters to largely control the narrative, making dividing the party considerably easier.

Regardless of whether either of these theories is true, one thing is for certain - the 2008 and 2012 elections demonstrated how voter data can get people to vote. Will 2016 show how voter data can actually stop people voting and then be used in a commercial or political vehicle afterwards? 

Sources

Image: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com

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