Big data: Turning the tables

Today I am writing an article for the quite newly-launched online edition of The Economist. An excerpt:

New technology has enabled start-ups to predict the behaviour of politicians and big businesses

Sep 3rd 2014 | Business and finance

AS THIS year’s congressional elections in America steadily draw closer, incumbents and hopefuls running for office are planning to spend billions of dollars on their campaigns. Much of this cash will be spent on paying savvy analysts to use big data to forecast how undecided voters will cast their ballots in November. But in this year’s campaign, the trend also seems to be going the other way. Rather than forecasting how ordinary voters behave, firms are now offering to make predictions, based on analysing big data, of how the various candidates would vote if elected to Congress or a state legislature.

These sorts of services are part of a wider movement to increase government transparency, by making it easier to access and analyse government statistics. For instance, OpenGov, a web-based tech firm, gives users access to vast amounts of state and local-government data. Yet even with the help of such services, the sheer volume of information on offer is ovewhelming to most individuals and companies. So a new breed of firm has come along to fill a gap in the market, by processing the data to predict the voting patterns of legislators.

One prominent example is FiscalNote Prophecy, a web-based service, sold on a monthly subscription basis by FiscalNote, a start-up founded last year. The company claims that its self-learning algorithm can—based on public data such as legislative votes, electoral statistics and campaign-finance figures—predict, with an accuracy of over 95%, the outcome of bills in Congress and state legislatures. Another is the Georgia Legislative Navigator, a website owned by the Cox Media Group, a publishing firm. It offers a similar, free service, albeit focused solely on legislative proposals in Georgia’s General Assembly.

Read the full story here.

Simon Hedlin

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