Did Donald Trump secretly employ Big Data Analytics for success?

Nov 17, 2016

With Donald Trump becoming the next Republican President-Elect, there is no reason to throw Data Analytics out of the window. His win doesn’t necessarily mean Data Analytics, whose role was established for correctly predicting results during Barack Obama’s 2012 election, is all hogwash. A closer scrutiny of what’s and why’s and putting the dots together can solve the puzzle. From the beginning Trump dumped all data strategies in public. While others entered into partnerships with data strategists, Trump didn’t. He, in fact, criticized the role of data analytics in predicting the outcome.

“I’ve always felt it [Big Data] was overrated. Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine. And I think the same is true with me,” he claimed, leading his opponents to berate his data strategies. However, these were purely his claims. He kept everyone under the illusion. In the last moments before the vote it came to be known that Trump had indeed hired a little known analytics company in the UK to provide him data insights. The two had been working for quite some time.

Donald Trump secretly hired British Analytics firm

In the month of September alone, Trump paid British firm Cambridge Analytica $5 million to help target voters. The company claimed it had data on around 230 million adults in the USA and approximately 4000 “data points” on every one of them, including gym and club memberships, charity donations, and card transactions. Trump’s win is confirmation that the data strategy of the British company, which is based on a hyper-targeted psychological approach, has worked. Only some days before the election, the London-based company witnessed an increase in support for Trump: from 1 to 3% in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The firm, which helped the Leave.EU group before the EU referendum in the United Kingdom, utilizes a psychological approach to decipher trends. They analyze data from diverse source: credit card histories, social media, consumer data, purchase history, voting records, supermarket loyalty schemes, phone calls, Facebook surveys and go even as far as documenting TV-watching habits. The data resulted in around 20 models that were constantly updated in real time as the database evolved.

“What gave us advantage over the other polling companies is how quickly we were able to react by updating models to take into account where the demographic is shifting,” said Matt Oczkowski, director of product at Cambridge Analytica, in an interview.

Data Analytics evolves fast. “Over the last four years, companies have sharpened Big Data tools, adding Artificial Intelligence, Predictive Analytics, Sentiment Analysis, Machine Learning, and Language Processing to the mix. As far as I see it, Cambridge Analytica’s data strategy paid off,” said Shashank Dixit, CEO, Deskera, a global leader in cloud technology that also has a Big Data Analytics tool.

Why the shroud of mystery over Donald Trump’s data strategy?

That Trump banked heavily on the British firm is evident due to three reasons: (a) he chose a company across the Atlantic, when most of them are based in the USA itself? (b) Till the last minute nobody knew of the arrangement. (c) Trump kept on rubbishing the role of data analytics. Why should there be secrecy around the firm if Trump didn’t think much of it? Now, all this seems like a well-calibrated strategy on the part of the wiley American. He kept his cards close to his chest till the last. He wanted his opposition to underestimate his strategy. The results show that the billionaire businessman clearly outwitted his opposition by utilizing data analytics surreptitiously.

By the time it came out into the open, it was too late. But even if Clinton’s analytics team had known it earlier, they wouldn’t have taken it seriously.

Just before the elections, a Clinton aide said: “We really have no idea what Trump is or isn’t doing. We are confident on where campaigns and organizations on the Democratic side of the spectrum are in terms of its analytics capabilities, but it’s important that we continue to innovate and that we can’t worry about what groups on the right are/aren’t doing.”

Trump’s ingenuity has certainly paid off. It was a masterstroke. This piece is not to undermine his appeal with the voters, the final factor which decides the winner. What this could signal is the beginning of a race for sharper more sophisticated tools that are being developed in the remote corners of the world. But all said and done, predicting human actions for such large number of people would always be a puzzle.

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