Big Data also insinuates its way into politics, especially in an election year. In the U.S., the candidates rely on huge stockpiles accumulated by their staffs to discern trends and patterns state-by-state, town-by-town, down to the most local level.
Both Obama and his Republican Party rivals are totally attuned to the importance of Big Data. Their teams of experts have it down to a fine art, figuring out what appeals to what group on the basis of age, income, education, social and ethnic backgrounds, among the most obvious determining factors. Much of Obama's success in 2008 was due to the skills with which his people organized, manipulated and, finally, analyzed Big Data. Karl Rove, the controversial one-time top adviser for George W. Bush when Bush was governor of Texas and then president, was equally adept at analyzing Big Data.
The use of Big Data is so important that it's sure to become a central factor, as well as an issue, in this year's campaign for president as well as for campaigns for one third of the U.S. Senate and the entire lower house, that is, the House of Representatives. It lurks in the background, determining where and how candidates place their greatest emphasis, where they go to win over "swing" voters who might go in either or any direction, what issues they choose as likely to win votes.
On one level, the use of Big Data is totally understandable. We live in the age of computers and the internet. On another, though, Big Data separates candidates and campaigns from relationship and first-hand understanding. Data also turns candidates into cynics and opportunists.
Big Data may reveal concerns among Americans about these issues and problems but does little to resolve them. The risk is the candidates become puppets manipulated by the strings of mega-computers inhaling trillions of factoids and breathing clouds of analysis and trends and pattern that pull the candidates one way or another.
In fact, the top candidates, Obama, as he seeks reelection as the Democratic Party candidate, and Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, appear separated by ideological, economic, social and political views that rise above the findings of Big Data. The gulf between the two is clear to most Americans even if Romney's foes for the Republican nomination like to say he's a moderate whose views are not that much different from those of Obama and the Democrats.
If the broad outline of the differences between Democrats and Republicans seems fairly clear, though, we have to wonder about the basis on which they'll pursue their campaigns. Just as a huge store sells stuff that is not necessarily good for customers, so the candidate can try to sell program that are really not going to be that helpful. Consider, after all, the obesity epidemic among Americans grown fat on fast food so cleverly aimed to cater to the dietary cravings of the largest number of people.
Then consider what Big Data can do in a political campaign, boiling down the issues to a palatable diet that may make the voters happy, may reap in the votes, just as fast food reaps in the money, but finally undermines and destroys society. That's the danger of Big Data at its most extreme. Watch the U.S. campaigning this year and see how Big Data plays out in the hard game of presidential politics. (Future Korea)
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