Trump’s last minute dash for data pays off

10 Nov 2016

  • Analytics
  • Leadership
  • Data

By: Nikola Hopkinson, Content Manager, ADMA

"Data vindicated victory."

So sang the victory tweet from Matt Oczkowski, who headed up Trump’s data and analytics team.
This might be a surprising statement coming from the Republican camp, whose leader (and now the president-elect of the United States) had dismissed the power of data and analytics not too long ago.
The win sent shock-waves through the world as pollsters and commentators were putting their money on a clear Clinton victory. 

The analytics team
Oczkowski is the head of product for Cambridge Analytica – the U.S. arm of the SCL Group Ltd, a research and communications company who were involved with the Leave.EU group in the U.K. in the lead up to the vote on Brexit.

The company’s psychological approach could be their not-so-secret weapon in the field of political analytics and could be what led to the two most surprising political outcomes of 2016 (and possibly this decade): Brexit and Trump.

The strategy
While the Trump camp only started taking data seriously a few months before the election, their strategy clearly worked. The campaign made great use of early voting clues to update its data models and try to persuade voters in the eleventh hour.

Focusing their attention on the most contested states, and identifying three significant trends in the last days of the campaign, confidence in the Trump camp was steadily growing. Early voting indicated fewer African American voters and a large jump in the 65+ age group – all positive signs for the Republicans. A slight increase in Hispanic votes meant that efforts clearly needed to focus on swaying this group.

Assisted by an Hispanic consultancy, the team targeted older Cuban or other Hispanic immigrants who are strongly against illegal immigration.

The result and what this means for data
While Trump wasn’t able to influence female voting preferences since the last election, men’s preferences shifted by almost double as compared to 2012 according to CNN’s exit polls. The polls also suggest that Trump managed to gain a larger than expected portion of the Hispanic vote – his last minute efforts evidently paying off.

Headlines are now declaring data dead. While this might be a fair call after the astounding defeat of Clinton’s data-driven campaign, Oczkowski disagrees:

"Data is not dead. Data’s alive and kicking. It’s just how you use it and how you buck normal political trends to understand your data."

And we tend to agree.

Update 18 January, 2017: Head of Product at Cambridge Analytica, Matt Oczkowski, will be one of the headline speakers at ADMA Data Day this year. Happening in Sydney on 3 April and Melbourne on 5 April, Oczkowski will give a unique insight into how analytics helped Trump win last year's elections. Visit for program details and to register your place now.

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