What businesses should learn from data-driven political campaigns that lose

Daniel Scarvalone, director at Bully Pulpit Interactive, explains why data should only be only one piece of your decision making strategy both for political campaigns and businesses.

Was too much made of the alleged data breech in the 2016 presidential campaign? TechRepublic's Dan Patterson's talks to Bully Pulpit's Dan Scarvalone about what actually happened and how future campaigns can address data.

Dan Patterson: There was a narrative, right or wrong, in 2016 that data lost, a massive emphasis in the run up to the election on data. One campaign had an advantage with data. And then that candidate lost, data lost. Is this a correct perception of data, or what's a better narrative, a better way to think about data in the election?

Dan Scarvalone: Two things: in politics the most successful decision makers know how to weigh the role of art and the role of science. If data's the role of science, if data is all the quantitative metrics we use to optimize our decision making, the role of art is the strategy. The role of art is thinking about ways to market my candidate; my candidate's specific strengths and weaknesses. It's the real blend and the real synthesis of the two that determines campaign success.

SEE: Become your company's data and analytics expert (TechRepublic)

A real challenge about data and politics is that it's not the end-all-be-all. I've worked on plenty of campaigns that have won, despite inferior data operations and I've worked on plenty of campaigns that have lost despite access to tons of different ways to use data to optimize decision making.

Business works the exact same way. There are lots of companies I buy products from every day without data operation worth a grain of salt, and there are plenty of companies that invest hundreds of millions of dollars on analytics, in marketing, in all sorts of research, I'd never buy products. Data is not the end-all-be-all in driving or predicting campaign success. It gets you over the finish line, but it requires an underlying message, a strategy, and a product or a good or a candidate that people actually want to support and people want to vote for.

Data enhances the synthesis. Was it a contributing factor in 2016? There were lots of contributing factors, in the way polls inform decision making, the way message research informs decision making. They all play a part, but I don't agree with the principle it was the only necessarily driving factor. In this country, we like changing the party in power every eight years or so. It's extraordinarily difficult for a party to hold the White House three straight times.

Also see

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox