Databases and Technology in Politics{Comments Off on Databases and Technology in Politics}


By Tony W.

With the onset of the information age, databases and various sorts of technology have been playing a large role in politics around the world and in the United States. Nearly All successful political campaigns are using data in a meaningful way. Being able to understand it and take advantage of it can be the key to winning an election.

For almost all of American history, voter information was locked up from the general public, and only political parties and the government had access. Much of this data, such as voter names, addresses, political affiliation, birth dates, phone numbers, was not available to the general public. This gave huge power to political parties. Without access to much of this information, it is very difficult for any new candidates or outsider politicians to break into politics. Being able to contact constituents and possible voters is, one of the most important, if not the most important things to having success in a campaign. Large scale data mining efforts have been going on, as voter information is very important for an election (Korte, 2015).

In 1982, when L.A. mayor Tom Bradley campaigned to become governor of California, he built a large database of California voters, and used it to target his field operations and raising money through direct mail (Trippi, 2013). Obviously it wasn’t an electronic database, but the concept was the same – having a central repository of voter information was crucial.

Today, we have more modern software to help politicians manage their campaigns and communicate with their voters. NationBuilder is one of the most popular software tools out there today. NationBuilder allows the campaigns to import publicly released databases about voters, as well as import their own data. Data, such as phone numbers, addresses, party affiliation, social media pages, and other demographics information can then be manipulated and used by the campaign. Theres no more need for slow, inefficient paper files, or even excel spreadsheets. The campaign can narrow down the voter base by ethnicity, income, location, political party, or any other information that the database contains. Querying that information, the campaigns can deliver targeted messages, request donations, organize canvassers, and anything else they want to do to communicate with their potential voters and constituents.

Another popular political campaign software is Trail Blazer. This software not only has similar database querying options as NationBuilder, but it is also very simple to canvass and phonebank using this software. It also manages email addresses and helps group voters up that might support the candidate.

With so much personal information out there about the voters sitting in databases, security becomes a much larger issue. In December of 2015, a large voter database containing the information of over 191 million U.S. voters from all 50 states was exposed online due to incorrect database configurations. Although voter information is generally publicly available, gathering all that information and putting it into a central database is expensive and time consuming. “A trove of all U.S. voter data could be valuable to criminals looking for lists of large numbers of targets for a variety of fraud schemes.” (Finkle, 2015). That database being exposed was very dangerous. Having security of voter information is critical to a democracy.

In conclusion, democracy has changed greatly throughout history. It started with paper records that had to be manually filed and read, and today we have databases that can be queried almost instantly. Political campaigns have much more access to voter information and have much more ability to communicate with them. However, with this new technology comes new risks. Security of the databases and voter information is key. We will see what the future holds for democracy.

References
Finkle, J., & Volz, D. (2015). Database of 191 million U.S. voters exposed on Internet: Researcher. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-voters-breach-idUSKBN0UB1E020151229
Korte, G. (n.d.). Web pioneer providing voter database for free. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/politics/story/2012/09/13/web-pioneer-providing-voter-database-for-free/57771980/1
Trippi, J. (2013, Jan). “TECHNOLOGY HAS GIVEN POLITICS BACK ITS SOUL”. Technology Review, 116, 34-36. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.cpp.edu/docview/1269703530?accountid=10357

http://nationbuilder.com/features_politics
http://www.trailblz.com/Political-Campaign-Software/