The recent revelations about the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica debacle is alarming, but should not be surprising. Companies, from Amazon to Netflix, continue to ratchet up the sophistication in how they analyze data to motivate potential customers.
It occurs to me, a political layperson, that the US electorate exists on a continuum: the far left and far right are highly aligned with their respective parties, often based on a few strong issues such as religion, abortion, taxes, gun rights, welfare, drug legalization, and so on. But this population collectively likely only constitutes a minority of the electorate. The majority reside in the middle. The closer to the middle one gets, I hypothesize that there are an increasing number of issues that the one considers important in selecting a candidate to support.
Neither political party has to worry much about their “base”; it’s the group in the middle that they need to fight for. From a lay person’s perspective, the approach candidates seem to generally take to address the “middle” is not the issues, but rather rote familiarity. Basic marketing 101. This is very likely why we see the costs of campaigns spiraling out of control: each candidate trying to get more “face time” in front of voters on TV, radio, and in front yards. In a manner of speaking, there seemed to be tacit acceptance of this practice, because whomever could raise more money must, by definition, have more support as evidenced by their superior fund raising abilities.
I think the Facebook debacle (and likely the Trump presidency as a result) shows us that it’s possible to segment people in the “middle” and efficiently target them with specific messages that are intended to resonate with that particular group.
Given the plethora of data gathered on a continual basis about nearly all US citizens, it seems likely that elections going forward will become less about effectiveness of fund raising and more about the effectiveness of data analytics approaches and the ability to target and deliver specific messages to prospective voters that are intended to either want to vote for the desired candidate, or at least not vote for the opposing candidate. All of this happens outside of public view and without any oversight. And that should be troubling to everyone.