Covid Elections and Coding

COVID, Presidential Elections, and Coding: an Overview of a Dynamic Time

Based on that title, you may get the impression that I’m going to put forth some excellent argument for or against a specific candidate in this election and then somehow tie in the wild world of tech and COVID to that. 

I’m definitely not going to advocate for anyone, but it may actually get crazier than that, so hold onto your seats. 

The average voter most likely does not see an immediate connection between the world of tech and that of election campaigns, but it is there, and it is much more important than most realize. For non-partisanship, I’ll use everyone’s favorite drinks in place of people to explain this process, which is probably way more fun anyway.

Many people believe that politics is about convincing people who think differently than you do to change their minds. Let me disabuse you of this notion right now with a quick analogy: Coca-Cola is not trying to convince Pepsi drinkers to drink Coke any more than Pepsi is trying to persuade Coke drinkers to drink Pepsi. That’s not where their marketing dollars are best spent, and in fact, it would be a waste of money. 

People are stubbornly set in their ways, most of the time, because that’s how humans function.

Instead, a much more worthy expenditure in a campaign is for Coca-Cola to convince Coke drinkers to buy and drink more Coke. A lot more. And often. 

Their marketing money is best spent on convincing people who already believe in their product to act on that belief. But to do that, they need to look at numerous factors.

How would a campaign or marketing team know these factors? One answer: data. 

In the world of marketing, of which political campaigns form a distinct sub-group, data is king. How does Coca-Cola know who drinks their drinks? Obviously, by tracking data, but that’s not deep enough.

What if Coca-Cola knew that certain demographics of people were more likely to drink Coke? What if, say, they knew that football fans were more likely to drink Coke over Pepsi? What if they could narrow it down further and understand that football fans who eat McDonald’s and drive Toyotas were more likely to drink Coke than people who watched basketball, ate Burger King, and drove Hondas?

If they can tell that, they can target their marketing campaigns to that demographic, which means their dollars are more effectively going exactly where they want it to go, as the people being targeted are much more likely to act on those prompts. The more specific you can narrow a group down, the more you can tailor a message that resonates with them (a commercial of a famous football player driving a Toyota through a McDonald’s drive-through while drinking a Coke, for example).

But the only way to know these things is through the acquisition and manipulation of data. And I can tell you, having worked in the political arena, lists of people are like money in the bank to interest groups and politicians. Just like with Coca-Cola, the more a political group knows about people, the more they can tailor their message, but the only way they can understand about people is through owning or renting massive lists that catalog people and their interests through robust data analytics programs that would make your head spin.

There are groups out there that have unique name lists that number in the tens of millions. Do you want to target Coke drinkers who like football and McDonald’s, drive Toyotas, and live in Chicago? There’s a list out there that can be made for you. Want it to be narrowed down by age group — say people between the ages of 20 and 30? What about further specifications regarding other interests? 

All of that can be done, but of course, it requires competent data analysts and those who understand coding structures to write programs to organize this information in usable formats. Without underlying code to make sense of this data, it becomes too cumbersome to use. 

This is all well and good, you say — understanding how political marketing works is excellent, but how does this relate to COVID? 

Glad you asked (or I asked, but I know you were thinking it). 

Because quarantine actions have been taken and because COVID has fundamentally changed how we live, this is essential data to understand for a political campaign. Any time there are societal shifts in priorities, the ones who are slowest to realize what those shifts usually end up the losers in a popularity contest — and that goes for business as well as politics.

Are people driving and traveling less? Eating out less? Spending more time on the internet? All of these factors (and many more) are of enormous importance to a political data analyst. How do these answers correlate to voting behaviors? And how can that be tracked in a meaningful, useful way? 

To put it another, non-political way: does less driving, traveling, eating out, and more time on the internet result in Coke drinkers drinking more Coke or less? Are Pepsi drinkers spending more time on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video? 

To put a finer point on it: are quarantined people more or less concerned with specific issues than they were four years ago? 

Again, data is king. The more you know about your target audience, the better you can message them. But the best way to handle that data is with competent analysts who can handle the coding work necessary to transform data into something useful. 

Technological advancements are reshaping the way we do everything. The better you understand that the better position you and your family will be in, move into the modern and rapidly changing landscape of the post-COVID, crazy-politics world we live in. 

Be one of those who understand that and don’t get left behind

Greg Drobny is a former Airborne Infantryman, PSYOP Team Chief, political consultant, professional mil blogger, and is Code Platoon’s Student Outreach Coordinator. He holds a BA in history, a Masters of Science in organizational psychology, and is currently pursuing an MA in history. He is married with four children who keep him more than slightly busy, and is passionate about helping veterans find their paths in life and develop the skills needed to pursue their goals.

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