Enter the Data- The Emerging Revolution in Electoral Campaigning

The way elections are being conducted is rapidly changing.  

It’s been a day since the five-state assembly elections came to an end in India, and predictably the internet is flooded with hot-takes that explain the results and the supposed cause and effect. The one big topic that almost all commentators seem to miss out on is the fact that the two political parties who reaped the biggest dividends are simply organizations that had built better databases, integrated online and field data, and employed more sophisticated analytic tools. They simply ‘out-databased’ every other political organization in the fray.  

The first bout of 2022 elections have some key lessons to teach students of psephology and ambitious citizens with political aspirations-  

1. Access to electoral and voter data has improved in scale and quality-  

Without a doubt, the quantity and quality of data accessible to political organizations have improved in the past decade. Along with the information that can be gathered through strategic and regular constituency level surveys, we have access to pre-election data from previous elections, economic, social, demographic and consumer information. These datasets come together to create a compelling image of the voters and their motivations.   

Actionable step-  

PACs and organizations will find it within their ability- both financial and human resources to build sturdy databases. Most datasets are available online, and advanced survey-tech contrary to general perceptions are cost-effective and resilient. The core investment will be building robust data analyst teams to interrogate databases and coax out insights.  

2. Data does not replace leadership-  

The single biggest reason for a political organization’s inability to benefit from easily available data is distracted leadership. Both the leading political parties had leaders on the helm who were data enthusiasts. For these political parties planning electoral campaigns using data is not just a strategic approach, but part of their everyday organizational culture.  

Political Action Committees (PACs) and leaders cannot simply talk about data, they have to demonstrate its advantage by using it to make decisions. This has a trickle-down effect in political organizations- party workers and especially young volunteers will then enthusiastically convert to a more data-driven approach.   

Actionable Step-  

Leaders will have to incorporate data-driven processes that are transparent, accessible and is connected to their communication channels. Intuition-based engagement with teams and volunteers should be replaced with data-driven processes that exhibit sound reasoning and highlight the fact that data-backed feedbacks are integral to the decision-making process.   

Now, for many the jargons in the above paragraph might obfuscate the insight. So, let me introduce an example- Meradesh Platform.   

Our 3-step approach turns the leadership into data-driven strategists in sync with the overall organization.   

  1. The Platform app acts as a decision-fueling dashboard and also provides analytical support to leadership.
  2. The Platform’s ability to inspire insights, in turn, rests on the outreach and engagement activities assigned to field workers by the leadership through our Moshpit app.  
  3. Our voter survey mechanism adds necessary behavioral context that substantiates gathered data and consistently micro-corrects voter engagement strategy.   

The pace at which these things can be implemented brings in the much needed ‘oneness of mind’ and organizational clarity. The leader truly becomes the tip of the arrow and the organization- the fletching.  

3. Gaining field-level feedback is critical- 

An indispensable insight from the recently concluded elections is that it pays to have your ear to the ground. This insight ought to be a PAC’s operational strategy. It is difficult to understand voter motivations without learning about their concerns and getting into a ‘conversation’.  

Actionable Step- 

Our survey mechanism helps you identify the voter’s views on issues- which then can be quantified. As a day-to-day approach this helps organizations tweak their communication format to enhance resonance and engagement.   

4. Tech ensures speed and accuracy-  

We are increasingly looking at smart organizations achieving bigger and bigger feats. Both the parties who have emerged as victors have been able to scale up their operations at a pace that is unprecedented. Good tech makes it happen. By good, we don’t mean morally, but in terms of efficiency.   

Actionable Step-  

‘Small Government, Big Governance’ makes sense here too- especially in practice. Working with organizations that understand electoral competition, voter communication, data architecture and building digital products is key to complementing your strength of building a political organization without distracting yourself with the everyday workings of a data-tech company.  

Bonus Insight-   

5. Leaders used data & tech to reinforce organizational management-  

Volunteers are the core strength of any ambitious political organization. India’s most influential political parties have successfully learnt to streamline their cadre-based system and encourage new recruits using data and tech. A notable party early this year asked voters and potential volunteers to suggest candidates for the role of Chief Minister, while another major party has mastered social media messaging by including its vast network of volunteers. It is vital to know that all these approaches are built on solid databases and the execution in itself feeds the database further.   

The power of clear execution, actionable messaging and building inclusiveness cannot be understated.