Brief thought exercise: has modern politics mostly become about Big Data and targeting?

Famous narrative of Obama winning in 2008 (and again in 2012) was that the Democratic machine had better data, analysis, and targeting methods. This has been discussed for years. The Republicans have a good deal of problems at the national level right now, not the least of which is their Electoral College situation, but they clearly need more of a focus on field data and analytics — in sum, BIG DATA — and less on large TV ad buys, etc. But an elderly white GOP member, Thad Cochran, did get a big win last night in Mississippi — a state where you’d never assume African-American Democrats would turn out for a white, long-term Republican Senator — and it harkens the question: is most politics now just about the data and the analysis? For years — decades, even — politics was akin to sports in the popular culture theater. You could endlessly debate and argue about it: why do people get elected? What about partisan shifts? Blue states? Red states? Open primaries? Moderates? Excessive liberalization? Southern Strategy? There were talking points galore. Those haven’t necessarily gone away, but in the modern world they seem to mean less. Rather, what seems to mean more is simply being better at targeting and analyzing. You want data scientists and marketing gurus, not passionate storytellers. This rolls up with the broader narrative that, as society has become more automatic, some of the charm of days of yore has been replaced. Miranda Lambert, ever the soulful poet, speaks to this in a recent hit.

Remember, FiveThirtyEight is a whole thing now; 15-20 years ago, would it have been?

What do you think: has the passion been replaced by the micro-targeting in politics?

Ted Bauer