Last week, we learned exactly what huge potential big data has in politics. Both presidential campaigns relied heavily on huge data sets for everything from identifying donors to potential supporters. Hoping to build the bid dataset for politics, Philadelphia-based startup, ElectNext took a moment to talk about big data, educated voters and the latter.
ElectNext is a civic engagement startup that helps voters identify what issues matter most to them and what candidates best match those preferences. ElectNext can be accessed through any device that supports mobile browsing.
David Zega, National Director of Local Communities at ElectNext took a few moments to talk to us about ElectNext.
Talk to us a little bit about the history of ElectNext
DZ: ElectNext launched in November of 2011. Our founder, Keya Dannenbaum, was in business school at Wharton at the time, having arrived there after years in politics at the international level, nationally in the presidential race of 2008, and locally running a successful campaign for the Mayor of New Haven, CT. Over that time, she observed first hand a real disparity in the levels of knowledge, engagement, and participation in national vs. local level politics.
A year later, our unique data-driven approach and platform, along with our media partnerships, has allowed us to reach more than 1 million unique users in the month of October alone and has made waves for its innovation—most recently as winners of VentureBeat’s DEMO conference in Silicon Valley.
Our partnerships include over 40 news organizations, from the national level like NBC politics and The Washington Post, to the local level like Philly.com, which use our matching technology to enhance their online political coverage. We also power a live display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which hosts hundreds of thousands of geographically and demographically diverse visitors each year.
Was the product designed with the 2012 elections in mind? What happens after this month? Any plans to continue developing ElectNext?
DZ: Our mission is to help anyone, anywhere engaged on their most important political issues, everyday. What we have built so far on ElectNext is one case of a much broader and more comprehensive experience. Right now our issues cover US federal issues, our politicians are all federal-level candidates, and our one major political event is the upcoming election.
Moving forward, we will be expanding our data so that we can help people connect to issues, politicians and political events not just at the national level and not just during elections, but all the way down to the neighborhood level every day.
We think that we can have an important impact at the local level because that is where some of our most important issues happen: on a daily basis in our communities. Think community centers and public parks, property taxes and the performance of a neighborhood school. So, we’re on a mission, from the national to the neighborhood level to personalize politics for you.
You guys have a LOT of data to play with. What do you primarily use the data for?
DZ: The biggest technology trend in electoral politics today is big data. Few people know this but the big campaigns operate just like sophisticated marketing or advertising firms. They buy up every possible piece of data on you—your name, age, gender, what you like, what you buy, who your friends are, your home address, your email address, your IP address—so they can deliver, personally for you, the right message through the right medium at the right time.
For us, this naturally raised the question: what do we know about our politicians. Most people can’t even name them and for us that represented a huge data divide and one that we wanted to bridge.
So, at ElectNext, we’re building the big dataset on politicians and putting it together with a recommendation engine, so that anyone, anywhere can use our data and technology to engage on their most important political issues, every day.
To build our political data platform comprehensively and well, we have aggregated and structured tens of millions of data points from a wide variety of sources—interest group ratings, campaign finance records, politicians’ websites and public statements, our expert partners, our users and even directly from politicians themselves—to determine where politicians stand on the issues. On top of this data platform we can build a number of experiences that help people get politically engaged.
How do you plan on using the data to enrich the lives of Philadelphia, specifically?
DZ: As previously mentioned, we believe that we can have an important impact at the local level.
The local level is where issues touch our lives the most. However, it is also at the local level that information and participation is the scarcest. We want to increase the level and extent to which residents here in Philadelphia are informed, engaged, and provided opportunities to participate in the political events and decisions that directly affect their lives, everyday.
What advice can you give to users on using ElectNext for future elections?
DZ: Something we’ve seen time and time again is when a user is surprised by their candidate matching results. Voting decisions are frequently based on political ideology or party affiliation.
At ElectNext, our candidate-matching tool asks users to take stands on issues—not party platforms or loaded questions—concrete issues that are current, relevant, and part of the public debate and agenda.
It’s for this reason that users are sometimes surprised when, based on issue and position alignment, they are matched to a candidate who’s party affiliation is different from their on. My advice to voters is to visit electnext.com and check out our candidate-matching tool. Maybe you’ll be surprised by the results or maybe the results will reaffirm what you already knew. Either way, get informed, get engaged, and be confident in your vote.