Big Data and Voting Blocks Date Back to the Kennedy Campaign

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Campaign advisers urged their client, a presidential candidate, to take progressive stands on race, religious equality and ending a long war. Thanks to advances in behavioral and computer sciences, the advisers claimed to have data to map a path to the White House, issue by issue, region by region, and voter group by voter group. You would be excused for thinking it is a contemporary story from this election cycle. You would be off by about 68 years.
Author and historian Jill Lepore’s story begins with the lead up to the 1952 presidential campaign and the efforts of Mad Men-style ad man and schemer dreamer Ed Greenfield to use a novel combination of “information extraction” and “voter prediction” to get his preferred candidate, Adlai Stevenson, elected president. It didn’t work the first time or in 1956, as Dwight D. Eisenhower handily won re-election. But four years later, Greenfield and his fledgling company, the Simulmatics Corporation, would claim credit for the election of John F. Kennedy who had reshaped his campaign around data in the so-called “people machine,” which was able to put numbers to the evolving public perceptions on the civil rights movement, the role of Catholics in public life and …

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