Dear Commons Community,
On this Election Day, David Brooks examines the state of data-driven politics and concludes it is a “fiasco”. Here is an excerpt from his column:
“Over the past decade or so, political campaigns have become more scientific. Campaign consultants use sophisticated data to micro-target specific demographic slices. Consultants select their ad buys more precisely because they know which political niche is watching which TV show. Campaigns trial test messages that push psychological buttons.
Discussion around politics has also become more data driven. Opinion writers look at demographic trends and argue over whether there is an emerging Democratic majority. Pundits like me study the polling crosstabs, trying to figure out which way Asian-Americans are trending here and high-school-educated white women are trending there.
Unfortunately, the whole thing has been a fiasco. As politics has gotten more scientific, the campaigns have gotten worse, especially for the candidates who over-rely on these techniques.
That’s because the data-driven style of politics is built on a questionable philosophy and a set of dubious assumptions. Data-driven politics is built on a philosophy you might call Impersonalism. This is the belief that what matters in politics is the reaction of populations and not the idiosyncratic judgment, moral character or creativity of individuals.
Data-driven politics assumes that demography is destiny, that the electorate is not best seen as a group of free-thinking citizens but as a collection of demographic slices. This method assumes that mobilization is more important than persuasion; that it is more important to target your likely supporters than to try to reframe debates or persuade the whole country.”
His closing comments:
“Some politicians, like F.D.R. or Ronald Reagan, can reframe debates and envision coalitions that don’t exist. Their visions emerge out of unique life experiences, which are unusual but have broad appeal. They build trust not through a few targeted messages but by fully embodying a moment and a people. They often don’t pander to existing identities but arouse different identities.
Today we have a lot of technical innovation, but not a lot of political creativity. The ecosystem no longer produces as much entrepreneurship — mutations that fuel evolution.
Data-driven candidates sacrifice their own souls. Instead of being inner-directed leaders driven by their own beliefs, they become outer-directed pleasers driven by incomplete numbers.”