Lok Sabha election: Will big data have a big impact?

Apr 07 2014, 10:45 IST
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SummaryThese days one can see a passionate debate raging in the media over rigging of opinion polls...

These days one can see a passionate debate raging in the media over rigging of opinion polls by political parties to improve their chances of coming to power. While psephologists deliberate over sample sizes and methods used for the latest opinion polls, an interesting incident from the US Presidential elections, 2012, comes to mind. Most political analysts were expecting a closely-contested election and opinion polls were indicating a probability of a very tight finish. However, Drew Linzer, a political science professor from Emory University, predicted results in favour of Obama with a score line 332-206 in June 2012. When the results were out in mid-November, the score line, not surprisingly, read Obama 332 v/s Romney 206!

That was the power of predictive analytics. The US elections used analytics, not only to predict results, but also to influence voters. Obama’s campaign successfully used a multi-pronged digital strategy with an estimated $52 million spent on online ads versus Romney’s $26 million. Obama had an edge over Romney in his social net worth as well; his Facebook fan page had around 33 million ‘likes’ while his YouTube channel pages had an astounding 240,000 subscribers and 246 million views.

If the US elections are anything to go by, it may even be possible to hazard a guess on the results of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in India, as extraordinary as that may sound. Having said that, there are, of course, several differences—cultural, demographic, economical, and social—between the Indian and the US scenario, which could make the exercise somewhat foolhardy. But the interesting point here is that of social media and the power it wields, along with the sure but silent emergence of analytics as the one tool that can make or break a prime ministerial candidate’s prospects in the electoral battleground.

The India story

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections are going to be different from all previous elections in the history of India. It would be the first election in India in which digital social media is expected to make a profound impact. The mobile revolution is almost complete and smartphones have become ubiquitous across the length and breadth of India. Today, political discussions don’t just happen at dinner tables and roadside ‘addas’, but also on Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp.

Giant cut-outs and hoardings of political leaders and parties now bear a few add ons —details of the official website, Facebook fan pages, and Twitter accounts. Parties also

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