Does anyone know, where I can learn about applying data science to win a political campaign? I know the Obama campaign had 12 data scientists in 2008 and 165 data scientists in 2012. In 2012, they ran over 65,000 simulations every night, for 14 months. They correctly predicted every state within 0.5% and Florida within 0.05%. How did they do this? And where can I find the data they used?
This is an interesting and relevant question. I think that from data science perspective, it should not be, in principle, any different from any other similar data science tasks, such as prediction, forecasting or other analyses. Similarly to any data science work, the quality of applying data science to politics very much depends on understanding not only data science approaches, methods and tools, but, first and foremost, the domain being analyzed, that is politics domain.
Rapidly rising popularity of data science and machine learning (ML), in general, certainly has a significant impact on particular verticals and politics is not an exception. This impact can be seen not only in increased research interest in applying data science and ML to political science (for example, see this presentation, this paper, this overview paper and this whole virtual/open issue in a prominent Oxford journal), but in practical applications. Moreover, a new term - political informatics or poliInformatics or poli-informatics - has been coined to name an interdisciplinary field, which stated goal is to study and use data science, big data and ML in the government and politics domains. As I've said earlier, the interest in applying data science to politics goes beyond research and often results in politics-focused startups, such as PoliticIt or Para Bellum Labs. Following the unfortunate, but established trend in startup ecosystem, many of those ventures fail. For example, read the story of one of such startups.
I am pretty sure that you will be able to find neither proprietary algorithms that political startups or election data science teams used and use, nor the their data sets. However, I am rather positive that you can get some understanding about typical data sets as well as data collection and analysis methods via the resources that I have referenced above. Hope this helps.
- Voter registration files are public data and are available at the state or county level (since the passage of the Help America Vote Act states are required to maintain lists of eligible voters).
- A popular account of the Obama data analytics is in the book, "The Victory Lab" by Sash Issenberg http://www.thevictorylab.com/
- Academic paper, "Political Campaigns and Big Data" https://www3.nd.edu/~dnickers/files/papers/nickerson_rogers.2014.pdf
Erin Hartmann who just finished up a PhD in Political Science at UC-Berkley has a paper that uses Obama for America data from 2012. She is using the paper on the job-market for an American Politics sub-field position Might want to check out her work, though I'm not sure it will answer your question. She has a public site here: http://www.erinhartman.com