CNET's Dan Patterson interviewed Chris Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence, about data analytics experts and how their expertise could help increase voter turnout. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Campaign 2018: Election Hacking is a weekly series from TechRepublic sibling sites, CBS News & CNET, about the cyber-threats and vulnerabilities of the 2018 midterm election.
Dan Patterson: Data and analytics. Your expertise is in analyzing big data and applying it so that you can convert the audience or convert voters into action. What take-aways did you learn from the Cruz campaign that you're applying now?
Chris Wilson: Great question. There's a lot that goes into that. I think, first of all let me start kind of high level because I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about what that is and there's been a lot of reporting about it just because there was a high profile company in our space that did some things they shouldn't have done, got some publicity and now they're out of business, and rightfully so. Having said that, that is the exception, not the norm. I would point to, not just the firms on the Republican side, but as you and I were talking about earlier, Elan Kriegel, who was Hillary Clinton's director of analytics in Blue Labs, I think they do very good work on the Democratic side and he's a good friend of mine. I think from a standpoint of what we try and do, we are trying to take campaigns directly to the individual. And that to me is the key component of it. In the same way that Spotify is going to recommend for you a good song you might want to listen to, or Amazon figures out that maybe you're a little bit low on deodorant or Netflix recommends something to watch. We try and recommend or work with campaigns to help them identify voters and identify the issues that are going to motivate those voters.
In an off-year election like this, one of the biggest concerns we have as a democracy is somewhere between 30 to 40% of Americans are going to vote so that means 60 to 70% of Americans that are registered to vote, won't even turn out and vote and I think that bothers me. Why is that? And in many instances because they don't believe their vote matters. And so I think it is incumbent upon us and our role as those who do and practice data analytics is to help to identify and motivate voters who might not otherwise have been that, have been motivated or felt like the campaign was connecting to them. I felt like Iowa was a great example of that. I think that's where you and I first had the opportunity to visit was right at coming off of Iowa. And in Iowa we identified 167 different, unique universes that were segmented either by an issue they cared about or who they were as an individual and we served unique creative to each of those 167 different segments for a hundred, and it was the largest turnout ever in Republican caucus in Iowa and I like to think that we had something to do with that by talking to them individually about the issues they cared about.
And for me, that was one of the biggest learnings I had is coming out of this is the first time I used predictive analytics in a campaign was in 2010, for Mike Lee in his race for senate in Utah, and most people wouldn't even look at that today and call it predictive analytics. And so the evolution, because of things like Moore's Law and Amazon Web Services has allowed us to do things today that we couldn't have done in '10 or '12 or even '14. But as that has grown '16 allowed me, and our role with the Cruz campaign, to try things that had not been tried before in politics. And I think the applicability of that to the mid-term elections has been, well, certainly the campaigns I'm involved in, we're doing more on every race I'm doing than we did in any cycle before this.
- Midterm elections 2018: How 7 states are fighting cybersecurity threats from Russia and other attackers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Ultimate guide to Facebook privacy and security (Download.com)
- User privacy and data management: Changes to expect in light of the Facebook debacle (TechRepublic)
- Securing Facebook: Keep your data safe with these privacy settings (ZDNet)
- How to check if Facebook shared your data with Cambridge Analytica (CNET)
Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.