In the early days of American politics, people sent messages by courier. Those letters took days or weeks to reach their destinations. Voters might never have seen the candidates or heard them speak — they formed their opinions based on newspaper stories and photographs. Radio and television changed the political process dramatically during the 20th century, and the lightning-paced technological changes of the 21st century are already affecting public policy. Apps, social media, and data analysis are at the forefront of political campaigns now.
Political campaign managers have used data since polling became popular in the early 1800s, but our ability to use data has changed dramatically since then. The 2012 election of Barack Obama introduced an application with a digital dashboard that used GPS technology to deliver localized information to organizers, streamlining grassroots organization. Candidates mirrored this new campaign tool in the 2016 election. Experts project that future campaigns will use “neuropolitical” technology that will measure facial expressions and biometrics to help candidates connect with voters.
Social media networks allow candidates and members of Congress to disseminate information quickly and inexpensively. Today, 98 percent of Congress uses some form of social media. Social media has changed the face of politics by allowing movements such as Black Lives Matter to garner public attention, pushing candidates to address issues they might otherwise have ignored. Take a look at this infographic from the University of Southern California to learn more about the effects of data and technology on U.S. public policy.