Traditional news media on the eve of the United States Presidential election was reporting a closely-contested election and there were many polls indicating that it might be a photo-finish. However, one thing has become clear from this election: not all polls are created equal. The pollsters using the latest data processing and analysis techniques were the most successful in predicting the outcome of the elections. For those who had the stamina to watch the election campaign unfold over 22 long months, it became not just a battle of ideologies and campaign issues, but also a rivalry between old media pundits and new media analysts.
Three different "polling aggregators" used different methodologies to predict the outcome of the elections. One, Drew Linzer, posted on his website in June 2012 that the election would be won with a result of 332 votes for Obama, 206 for Romney. Over the months that followed, that prediction didn't change, even as new information came in. As I write, Florida has just been called with the final electoral count coming in at ... 332 votes for Obama, 206 for Mitt Romney.
What is remarkable here, is not only that savvy pollsters are using predictive analytics to determine outcomes -- but just how accurate these predictions have proved, particularly compared with old-school Washington methodologies of going on a hunch, following your instinct, etc. So, these results show that we have now got better at predicting the future which is no small feat -- but how about influencing the outcome? It turns out this was also the election where that happened too.
President Obama's campaign ran an extremely sophisticated and relentless digital operation that threw out the rule book and took no assumption for granted. This was not an election won with a clever advertising campaign -- that is too 90's -- and actually, that is what the Republicans did. This campaign was masterminded by data analysts who left nothing to chance. They revived the virtual campaign centre called mybarackobama.com from the '08 election (and thus highlighting the benefits of "owning" your data), and encouraged supporters to volunteer their personal information, comments, post photos and videos, and donate funds. But this was only the starting point. In a multi-pronged engagement strategy, webmasters used supporters' content to galvanise others and drive traffic to other campaign sites such as Obama's Facebook page (33 million "likes") and YouTube channel (240,000 subscribers and 246 million page views).
The Romney campaign struggled to keep up in this digital arms race and resorted to an old-fashioned conservative rhetoric posted in blogs, sympathetic TV and radio stations which attracted headlines and roused followers but Romney's YouTube channel only attracted 23,700 subscribers and 26 million page views.
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