I was recently invited by the Austrian party NEOS to give a talk on the lessons learned from the U.S. presidential elections. At that occasion, we also spoke about how online campaigning has shaped the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. In past weeks, there has been a lot of buzz about chat bots, fake news and big data. I have long been skeptical particularly about the influence of social media. I noticed that it happened to be mostly the people who make their living with social media who were so adamant about its influence of election campaigns. However, the following can be said:
1) According to realclearpolitics, Trump won Florida and Pennsylvania each by 1.1%, Wisconsin by 0.8% and Michigan by 0.2%. Without the Comey letter and/or the hike of Obamacare premiums, I think Clinton could have won all of them. In such a scenario, the entire result and analysis would now look distinctively different.
2) Trump’s win was not a win on the basics. It was a chaotic campaign with an undisciplined messenger. However, Clinton’s loss was a loss on the basics of a campaign. An election campaign is a series of strategic decisions. Ignoring non-college educated white men was a fundamental misjudgment. Also, to let Trump own “change” so easily was distinctively wrong.
3) This being said, digitalization is changing our society. There obviously is something in the making. It might be rather difficult to apply it in other settings outside of the U.S., but we should watch what’s happening with fake news, chat bots, facebook shares and in particular with big data. As of now, we know little about the real extent of it and there is not much proof regarding its effectiveness. But microtargeting is particularly promising for a small party in a multi-party, proportional system, where it takes few votes to make a difference.