The 2016 U.S. Presidential election demonstrated the importance of digital campaigning. President Trump’s campaign was vastly outspent by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and placed little emphasis on traditional ground-game tactics. Instead, Trump focused his campaign on digital strategies to target “persuadable voters” via social media. The outcome of the election demonstrated the efficacy of this strategy; not only did Clinton lose the election, but she became the first general election candidate in nearly 40 years to lose after outspending their opponent.
Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and analysis firm, was hired by the Trump campaign and played a significant role in Trump’s underdog victory. Cambridge Analytica analyzed the content that a Facebook user liked, shared, or commented on in order to create a psychological profile of that social media user. The Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica then used these psychological profiles to target persuadable voters.
Cambridge Analytica, however, dissolved in 2018 after public outcry from social media users claiming that Cambridge Analytica mined their data without their consent. Information was then presented that not only did Cambridge Analytica influence the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump, but also worked on behalf of the Brexit campaign and other political movements around the world.
This global trend indicates that data mining and voter targeting may be the blueprint for modern campaigning. It is likely no coincidence that Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, is also a founder of Cambridge Analytica. Furthermore, despite the public backlash that Cambridge Analytica faced, the 2020 Trump Campaign has already partnered with new data analytics firms formed by Cambridge Analytica executives. Cambridge Analytica may have dissolved, but the valuable psychological profiles it created still exist and will continue to be exploited.
This article authored by guest blogger Michael Milas a student at Roger Williams University School of Law.