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Data-driven campaigning and democratic disruption: Evidence from six advanced democracies



Data-driven campaigning has become one of the key foci for academic and non-academic audiences interested in political communication. Widely seen to have transformed political practice, it is often argued that data-driven campaigning is a force of significant democratic disruption because it contributes to a fragmentation of political discourse, undermines prevailing systems of electoral accountability and subverts ‘free’ and ‘fair’ elections. In this article, we present one of the very first cross-national analyses of data-driven campaigning by political parties. Drawing on empirical research conducted by experts in six advanced democracies, we show that the data-driven campaign practices seen to threaten democracy are often not manifest in party campaigns. Instead, we see a set of practices that build on pre-existing techniques and which are far less sophisticated than is often assumed. Indeed, we present evidence that most political parties lack the capacity to execute the hyper-intensive practices often associated with data-driven campaigning. Hence, while there is reason to remain alert to the challenges data-driven campaigning produces for democratic norms, we argue that this practice is not inherently disruptive, but rather exemplifies the evolving nature of political campaigning in the 21st century.
Original Research Article
Party Politics
2022, Vol. 0(0) 115
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/13540688221084039
Data-driven campaigning and democratic
disruption: Evidence from six advanced
Glenn Kefford
School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Katharine Dommett
Department of Politics, University of Shefeld, UK
Jessica Baldwin-Philippi
Department of Communication and Media Studie, Fordham University, Bronx, NY, USA
Sara Bannerman
Faculty of Social Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Tom Dobber
Amsterdam School of Communications Research, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Simon Kruschinski
Department of Communication, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
Sanne Kruikemeier
Amsterdam School of Communications Research, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Erica Rzepecki
Faculty of Social Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Data-driven campaigning has become one of the key foci for academic and non-academic audiences interested in political
communication. Widely seen to have transformed political practice, it is often argued that data-driven campaigning is a
force of signicant democratic disruption because it contributes to a fragmentation of political discourse, undermines
prevailing systems of electoral accountability and subverts freeand fairelections. In this article, we present one of the
very rst cross-national analyses of data-driven campaigning by political parties. Drawing on empirical research conducted
by experts in six advanced democracies, we show that the data-driven campaign practices seen to threaten democracy are
often not manifest in party campaigns. Instead, we see a set of practices that build on pre-existing techniques and which are
far less sophisticated than is often assumed. Indeed, we present evidence that most political parties lack the capacity to
execute the hyper-intensive practices often associated with data-driven campaigning. Hence, while there is reason to
remain alert to the challenges data-driven campaigning produces for democratic norms, we argue that this practice is not
inherently disruptive, but rather exemplies the evolving nature of political campaigning in the 21st century.
Paper submitted 20 October 2021; accepted for publication 10 February 2022
Corresponding author:
Glenn Kefford, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia.
Political parties, campaigning, digital, data
Data-Driven Campaigning (DDC) has become a key con-
cept for those seeking to understand elections and cam-
paigns in the last two and a half decades. Whilst the practice
of collecting and mobilising information about citizens
within campaigns has long antecedents (Hersh, 2015), in
recent years it has been argued that we have entered a new
era of DDC facilitated by developments in digital tech-
nology, media and broader society (Roemmele and Gibson,
2020). Characterised by the collection, analysis and use of
increasingly personalised information online and ofine,
data is widely seen to have transformed modern cam-
paigning (Nickerson and Rogers, 2014). However, DDC
has also been seen to be a force of democratic disruption,
with the collection, analysis and use of data in election
campaigns by political parties and other campaigners seen
to be challenging democratic norms and practices (Gorton,
2016). Focussing on political parties as the key campaign
actors in most advanced democracies, we argue it is im-
portant to know how political parties are using data in their
campaigning practices so that we can determine the likely
extent of disruption to these parties, as well as to our de-
mocracies. Hence, in this article, we answer the question:
how, if at all, do political parties in advanced democracies
undertake DDC?. This question allows us to determine
whether DDC is the existential threat to democratic norms it
is often assumed to be, or whether DDC is a product of
broader socio-political forces which encourage and in-
centivise campaign actors such as political parties to
campaign in such a way.
Our approach departs from the prevailing tendency to
detail the theoretical, normative and legal aspects of DDC
(Dobber et al., 2019;Zuiderveen Borgesius et al., 2018).
Instead we provide one of the very rst cross-national
empirical analyses of DDC practices, something severely
lacking in the literature thus far. While increasingly there are
case studies of DDC practices across the globe (Anstead,
2017;Kefford, 2021), scholarship lacks comparative ana-
lyses and is United States (US)-centric. This US focus is
particularly problematic because prevailing accounts of
DDC have become associated with highly resourced
presidential campaigns that are an outliner compared to
most election campaigns.
Offering an important corrective to these tendencies, we
bring together and comparatively analyse empirical data on
the DDC practices of political parties in six advanced de-
mocracies. Specically, we reveal the variety of ways in
which data is collected, used and curated by campaigns,
showing that while there are a relatively uniform set of
practices employed by parties across advanced democracies,
the take-up and implementation of these practices differ
signicantly across and within country contexts. Hence,
while there is evidence of DDC having a disruptive impact on
campaigning practices and parties, these effects are by no
means uniform, inherently new or necessarily democratically
The remainder of our article is structured as follows: we
begin by surveying the literature on DDC and outline the
threat it is perceived to pose to democracy. We then move on
to our ndings, setting out developments in our six ad-
vanced democracies. We start with how data is collected,
turn to how data is used and then move on to discuss data
infrastructure. We conclude by reecting on the limitations
and logical extensions of our study and discuss the im-
plications of our ndings in light of DDCs alleged impact
on democratic norms and practices.
The rise of data-driven campaigning
DDC has gained widespread interest amongst academic and
non-academic audiences, coming to prominence as media,
technological and social-political transformations have led
to a fragmentation of media landscapes, ongoing data-
cation of society, increasing individualisation, and broader
electoral volatility across the democratic world. Some
scholars see DDC as a new science of campaigning(Pons,
2016: 36), suggesting it has opened the possibility of direct
approaches in which political actors target personalized
messages to individual voters by applying predictive mod-
elling techniques to massive troves of voter data(Rubinstein,
2014: 882). For Baldwin-Philippi, DDC has two main fea-
tures: targeting, or deciding which messages go to what
potential voters at what time during the campaign, and
testing, or empirically measuring how well messages perform
against one another and using that information to drive
content production and further targeting(2017:628).
Studies examining the effect of DDC on organisations
such as parties have been sparse. Some scholars focus on
data as a resource that has organisational consequences for
campaigning (Munroe and Munroe, 2018:89). Whilst by
no means novel (Hersh, 2015;Kreiss and Howard, 2010),
new forms of data are seen to allow parties to make cost
efcient decisions, (Kreiss, 2016), to improve communi-
cation attempts and to support the organisation and eval-
uation of a campaign(Dobber et al., 2017;Kruschinski and
Haller, 2017). Frequently, DDC is depicted as the latest
manifestation of longstanding trends of professionalisation
and modernisation within political campaigning (Plasser
and Plasser, 2002;Chester and Montgomery, 2017).
2Party Politics 0(0)
More prominent have been concerns about the demo-
cratic implications of DDC. Many scholars have made
connections between DDC and voter surveillance or pro-
ling, leading to coverage of electoral manipulation and
subterfuge. Accounts highlight how [b]y analysing specic
datasets, political parties can achieve a highly detailed
understanding of the behaviour, opinions and feelings of
voters(IDEA, 2018: 6). Or that it even is possible to
predict a persons beliefs, even before they have formed
them themselves. And, subsequently, it is possible to subtly
steer those beliefs, while leaving the person thinking they
made their decision all by themselves(in t Veld, 2017:2
3). Such narratives suggest DDC has democratic implica-
tions for individuals (Zuiderveen Borgesius et al., 2018),
raising questions about votersprivacy and capacity to
freely exercise choice free from manipulation (Burkell and
Regan, 2019). At a societal level, scholars have also
spotlighted the negative democratic implications of DDC,
arguing that it encourages campaigns to focus on individual
interests rather than interest aggregation (Kusche, 2020),
contributes to a fragmentation of political discourse (Pons,
2016;Harker, 2020), and undermines prevailing systems of
electoral accountability (Jamieson, 2013;in t Veld, 2017).
DDC is therefore currently seen to threaten established
democratic principles about individual and societal prac-
tices, trends that are seen likely to only intensify as cam-
paigns gain access to ever more personalised data and
technology adapts to enable more individual level targeting.
Whilst these democratic implications are widely dis-
cussed within scholarship and wider society, much existing
work exhibits signicant limitations. First, empirical ob-
servations are scarce since access to campaigns is difcult to
obtain and there is little transparency around DDC practices.
Second, extant studies have adopted a media-centric
theoretical approach, focussing on the growth of digital
technology and the data insights these developments make
available (Jungherr et al., 2020). Third, most of the studies
focus on single country cases with a special focus on the US
context (Baldwin-Philippi, 2017;Kreiss, 2016).
Data and methods
We expand knowledge of DDC by comparing practices in
Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United
Kingdom (UK) and the US. In selecting our cases, we chose
countries with established history of DDC and utilised a
Most Different Systems Design (MDSD) to compare key
dimensions which theoretically should be signicant in
shaping campaign practice in advanced democracies.
Hence, we included countries with different electoral,
regulatory, and institutional structures, allowing us to ob-
serve differing nancial regimes, party systems, unitary and
federated structures, voluntary and compulsory voting, as
well as different regulatory and legislative environments. In
doing so, our aim was not to produce a set of ndings that
are generalisable, or that explain the variation across ad-
vanced democracies, but rather to deepen understanding of
the varied nature of DDC and its impact on democracy. We
focus our attention particularly on political parties in rec-
ognition of the central role they play within election
campaigns and their signicance as essential components of
the democratic framework.
Our approach, which is inductive and qualitative, has
proven insightful for the study of new campaigning tools in
our eld (Kreiss, 2016;McKelvey and Piebiak, 2018), and
builds on emerging work that has shown variation in the
practices and organisational capacities of parties to un-
dertake DDC (Dommett, 2019;Kefford, 2021;Kruschinski
and Haller, 2017). Our analysis therefore allows us to reect
more concretely on the way that changes to media, tech-
nology and political participation are or are not shaping
how political parties campaign in the 21st century.
To conduct our analysis, we brought together a group of
scholars with detailed knowledge of DDC practices of
political parties in the six democracies. Each featuring as
authors of this piece, we set out to pool our empirical in-
sights of single case studies to tackle the prevailing ten-
dency for isolated, or empirically impoverished studies of
data-driven campaigning. Whilst it may have been optimal
to conduct new, entirely comparative work simultaneously
in our six countries, this approach was not possible for a
number of reasons. In addition to resource constraints,
access was a pre-eminent concern. DDC is a highly sensitive
topic and it is common to encounter non-disclosure
agreements or extreme reticence about taking part in re-
search. Securing access, or re-access, is therefore far from
Our chosen approach, of course, raises a number of
challenges. Most immediately, it means that our data is not
directly comparable, either in terms of the type of empirical
insight collected, the time period covered, or the number of
parties (see Table A1 in the appendix). In the majority of our
cases, researchers have conducted extensive interviews,
scrutinised internal party documents, media coverage and
other documents within the last 23 years. The relative
propensity of each type of data reects the dynamics of each
case. In Australia, for example, interview data far exceeds
any of our other cases, reecting the limited insights which
are publicly available about the practices of political parties
in that country as a result of a regulatory regime that requires
almost no disclosure and transparency around party ex-
penditure. In contrast, in Canada or the Netherlands, for
example, experts were able to rely on other sources to gain
understanding, often drawing on party documents or con-
tent analysis. While acknowledging these limitations, we
argue that the merits of providing the rst detailed cross-
national study of DDC outweigh these limitations as our
data allow us to provide a necessary corrective to the often
Kefford et al. 3
simplistic and uniform coverage of DDC by political parties
in scholarly and popular commentary.
In order to draw insights from this data, we asked all
authors to provide responses to a set of standardised re-
search questions inspired by Dommetts (2019) theoretical
data-driven framework on data collection, data use, who is
using data, data regulation and recent election campaign
practice. Our analysis focusses on DDC practices in the run
up to national election campaigns for the sake of increasing
However, given the organisational structure
of many political parties, interviews (when utilised) were
conducted not only with candidates, party ofcials and
campaign consultants working in national campaign
headquarters, but also with actors at sub-national and local
levels. Due to inconsistencies in data collection, we were
unable to offer comparative analysis on all topics, and hence
rened our focus to concentrate on three aspects of DDC:
Data collection, data use and data infrastructure. We discuss
each theme in turn and spotlight variance between major
and minor parties in each country. We also reveal areas in
which our data is less comprehensive, showing where
further empirical investigations can fruitfully build on our
Data collection
Central to many of the concerns that scholars, policymakers
and commentators have about DDC is that it incentivises
parties or other campaigners to surveil citizens (Zuboff,
2019) instead of engaging them through other democratic
means. In accordance with many prevailing accounts, DDC
prompts parties to collect tens of thousands of data points
about votersmovements, engagement and behaviour in
online and ofine environments (Schechner et al., 2019).
This data, and especially personalised forms of digital trace
data, are seen to make it possible for parties to inuence and
even manipulate citizens to promote their electoral goals
(Madsen, 2019). Data can therefore be used to demobilise
certain groups of voters (Bodó et al., 2017) or to develop
subversive forms of persuasive inuence (Burkell and
Regan, 2019), reshaping political practice and trans-
forming the logic of the democratic process.
To better understand and contextualise data collection
processes and the logic underpinning this activity, we, rst,
asked team members to describe in detail whether and how
parties collected data. In particular, we wanted to reect on
how data was gathered, asking whether this was freely
available, required party members and supporters to un-
dertake canvassing work, was purchased from external
brokers, or gathered through party polling (see Table A2).
We found that data is widely used and is collected in rel-
atively consistent ways across our cases, with limited
evidence that new media and social change has transformed
established data collection practices. There are important
differences in the practices evident in each country, and in
the capacities of major and minor parties. Challenging the
idea that all parties are able to collect extraordinarily de-
tailed political dossierscomposed of hundreds of millions
of individual records, each of which has hundreds to
thousands of data points(Rubinstein, 2014: 863864), our
analysis raises questions about the sophistication and
novelty of contemporary data collection activity.
First, looking at variation across our countries, we found
a longstanding tradition of data collection. Despite the
institutional and regulatory differences, there is relatively
little variation in the type of data collection methods uti-
lised. A combination of state information, canvassing data,
online tools (such as email sign up lists, cookies or social
media matchingdata)
, polling, and the purchasing of data
are commonly found, suggesting a high degree of com-
monality. However, we do nd variation in the type of
information parties are able to collect in each country. Take,
for example, state provided information. In the UK, Aus-
tralia, US and Canada, information is available year-round
but comes in different forms. In the UK, parties can access
the electoral roll and the marked register, offering them
insight into who is registered, who cast their ballot at
previous elections, who has a postal vote and who is a rst-
time voter. However, in Germany, whilst some data is
certain information can only be purchased
6 months before an election including names, addresses and
educational qualications if a party asks for data on a clearly
dened population group of a certain age. Moreover, in the
Netherlands, an electoral roll has not been provided since
1951, vastly affecting the information parties can access.
These variations are not only evident when comparing
different countries. In the US, there is little internal uni-
formity, with some states providing information freely and
publicly, some providing it freely but requiring people to go
through a request system or credentialing, and others re-
quiring payment. There are even differences in the available
data in different states, with some offering information on
partisan registration or ethnicity, and others not. In part these
variations reect alternative regulatory frameworks, with
data protection in European countries in particular curtailing
what information can be shared and utilised, but the vari-
ations within single countries suggest that local rules and
norms are also signicant to understanding differences.
Similarly, we found that canvassing was a long-
established practice in many countries, but once again
there was variation as this has longer antecedents in Australia,
Canada, the Netherlands, UK and US, where door-knocking
or phone canvassing are common (Bale et al., 2019;Dobber
et al., 2017;Kefford, 2021;Nielsen, 2012). In contrast, in
Germany, until 2019 it was only the two major parties who
canvassed strategically (Kruschinski and Haller, 2017).
4Party Politics 0(0)
Whilst parties within and between our countries gather
different types of data when canvassing,
parties usually
seek to gather data on vote intention and in many countries,
issue positions. Parties in all our cases are also adopting
digital canvassing tools in the form of mobile canvassing
applications, and yet rather than transforming canvassing
activity we found that this practice streamlined established
canvassing activities by removing the need for time-
consuming manual data input.
One area of particular interest is the collection of data
online and its potential to transform campaigning activity.
Often presented as offering a raft of new, more granular
forms of information to political parties (Dobber et al.,
2017: 12), we found that parties were indeed beginning
to gather more data online, but these activities were not
inherently disruptive. In large part online efforts reect
established ofine methods focused on getting individuals
to disclose their own information to campaigns, with parties
using tools such as the UK Labour PartysNHS Baby
Numberwhich invited people to input their personal in-
formation and email address in order to nd out what
number baby they were under the NHS system a technique
which reportedly harvested over a million email addresses
that the party were able to use for targeted campaign
messaging (Culzac, 2014).
In a different vein, parties also
gathered information online without individualsknowl-
edge or express consent. In Germany, for example, parties
reported themselves to be using the Facebook pixel function
to trace the online activity of voters. Whilst these practices
have the potential to raise privacy concerns, they mirror
established ofine activity whereby parties record insights
about individuals that they have not disclosed themselves.
Indeed, there is evidence in Canada and the UK of parties
making inferences about ethnicity or gender from details of
votersnames (McEvoy, 2019), leading them, for example,
to send Eid cards to those believed to be Muslim voters.
Whilst some of the data gathered online was different than
previously available, this type of data collection did not
represent a radical departure from previous data collection
One possibility is that parties are using online data
sources to build detailed proles of voters within their own
databases. To this point, we found that online data was often
being used to facilitate specic forms of online commu-
nication but was not being integrated into unied party data
sets. For example, parties in all our countries used the data
access services provided by companies such as Facebook
and Google to gather new insights, but these companies do
not allow parties to buy the underlying data they possess,
curtailing data collection possibilities. Whilst our cases
showed instances in which some data collected online
such as emails were paired with partiesexisting voter
information data, online sources often appeared to
supplement rather than transform existing data-collection
Noting these trends, it is important to highlight important
differences in the data collection practices of major and
minor parties. This is especially the case in relation to the
collection of data via canvassing and partiesability to
purchase data. The reasons for these trends reect existing
nancial disparities between parties. First, canvassing is
labour and capital intensive and some minor parties in the
Netherlands, Germany and Australia did not have either the
labour or capital resources to undertake these activities.
Second, smaller parties in the Netherlands, Germany,
Canada, UK and Australia were less able to nance the
purchase of data either from the state (for example in
Germany), from external companies, or from polling or-
ganisations. Even in the US, campaigns must pay the party
for use of their voter le during primary elections, sug-
gesting that available nance can limit a smaller campaigns
access to data. Finally, we also found some examples of
smaller parties in the Netherlands and Germany (but not in
our other cases) who limited their data use and acquisition at
an ideological level. An example of this comes from the
Netherlands and the Democrats 66 (D66), whose use of data
was shaped by their principled stance on issues such as data
privacy. Whilst it is theoretically possible for major parties
to adopt such principled positions, we found no evidence of
this occurring within our cases.
Thinking through the consequences of these ndings, the
evidence suggests data collection is commonplace, but by
no means uniform. We nd little evidence that there has
been a marked shift in data collection practices prompted by
developments in digital technology, and rather, it appears
parties have adapted well-established data collection pro-
cesses to integrate new insights. This suggests that the
democratic concerns raised about newand revolutionary
practices are overstated. Moreover, while there is reason to
be concerned about parties collecting tracking and other
data via pixels and the subsequent effects on citizen privacy
and parties in many of our cases were doing this our
evidence suggests this tracking data was less inuential than
is often assumed. In drawing these conclusions it appears
that data acquisition mirrors a trend found elsewhere in
campaigning and party organisation where rather than
providing opportunities for new or emerging minor parties,
we see data as a signicant resource that parties need to
collect to campaign in the contemporary political and media
environment reinforcing existing hierarchies in party
systems and favouring established major parties (Gibson,
2015;Gibson and McAllister, 2015).
Data use
One of the central claims associated with prevailing de-
pictions of DDC is that campaigns use data to model voter
Kefford et al. 5
behaviour and can send targeted messages proven to be
effective on specic audiences. Christopher Wylie, the
Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower, famously told the
Guardian (cited in Cadwalladr and Graham-Harrison,
2018), We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of
peoples proles. And built models to exploit what we knew
about them and target their inner demons. Such capacities,
if widely utilised and effective, would indeed represent a
disruptive force in campaigning practice and democracy,
and yet questions have been raised about how widespread
and new these practices are (Baldwin-Philipi, 2017; 2020).
To provide some much-needed comparative evidence of
how exactly data features in contemporary election cam-
paigns, we asked team members to describe how data was
used by political parties. In particular, we asked them to
outline to what extent: parties identify groups of voters with
certain demographic or attitudinal characteristics to target,
whether parties create models that prole voters, and to
what extent parties use data and analytics techniques to
either create scores about how likely voters are to be
supporters or to be persuadable (see Table A3).
First, across our six cases, in regards to the claim that
parties are developing detailed proles of citizens, we found
it was common for parties in each country to create scores
on a citizenslikelihood to be a supporter and/or their
persuadability. The sophistication of the practices under-
pinning these scores and the granularity of the data was,
however, exceedingly difcult to assess. This was partially a
product of a lack of transparency and because parties often
delegate these processes to companies who are unwilling to
disclose their processes. This makes it challenging to un-
derstand precisely how models are constructed, but also to
determine how frequently they are used to underpin cam-
paign interventions. The exceptions to this are the US
(Hersh, 2015;Nickerson and Rogers, 2014) and Australia
(Kefford, 2021), where there have now been detailed dis-
cussions of the analytics process campaign operatives
There was, however, some evidence that the idea of
modelling broadly dened has been widely embraced by
the major parties in the six case studies. When it comes to
identifying supporters, we found major and many minor
parties attempting to identify the attributes of likely sup-
porters to target voters. In the Netherlands, for example,
Groen Links used proling techniques to identify likely
voters (e.g. showing highly educated women, living in a city
to be more likely to be a GroenLinks voter). Similar ap-
proaches can be observed in the personas identied by
campaigns as groups of target voters, with a search in the
Australian Liberal Party for tradiesand similar techniques
also used by the German Christian Democrats to identify
groups of like-minded voters. These techniques are not,
however, particularly new, as polling and focus groups have
been used for decades to identify target audiences and this
has also been a common approach used by data brokers and
commercial marketing operations for decades (Kusche,
Our analysis also explored the extent to which parties
were using data to identify ne-grained target audiences. We
found that whilst occurring to some extent in our six cases,
these practices were not uniform. In the UK, Germany and
the Netherlands, for example, parties engaged in a form of
narrowcasting(Kefford, 2021), communicating specic
policy pledges to particular groups such as students or
pensioners. Many of these appeals did not involve so-
phisticated modelling or attempts to determine the most
effective forms of messaging, but rather used simple geo-
graphic or demographic information to identify a target
group. Such practices occurred both ofine and online and
were a longstanding feature of party communication
(Fulgoni et al., 2016).
It is, however, important to note that across our cases,
there was evidence of parties utilising the services of
technology companies to aid targeting. In all our cases
parties use Facebook tools such as core,lookalikeor
customaudiences to identify specic types of voters or
those who had certain attributes in common, such as lo-
cation, age, language or gender. Previous research within
platform studies has highlighted how the affordances of
digital technologies can affect how campaigns are organised
(Nielsen and Ganter, 2018), and our ndings mirror this. We
did, however, nd differing relationships between parties
and such companies. Whilst in Germany we found evidence
of the CDU working closely with Facebook to construct
target audiences for specic topics and campaign times,
reecting practices previously found in the US (Kreiss and
McGregor, 2018), this kind of practice was not found
widely elsewhere. Indeed, even looking in more detail
within the US, while the two major parties do this, and make
it easy enough that even congressional campaigns can pull
lists of targets to canvass and call, most House and even
some Senate races especially those that were not contested
or which were poorly nanced do not engage in their own
sophisticated modelling or have access to direct relation-
ships with social media companies.
Beyond platform affordances, the precise form of tar-
geting evident in our cases was often heavily informed by
the institutional, behavioural and electoral dynamics of each
case. In Australia, for example, where there is compulsory
voting and where turnout is high, there was less incentive
for parties to focus on identifying infrequent voters and
deploying mobilising messages. In contrast, in the US,
where voting is not compulsory, where turnout in some
areas is historically low, and where specic districts are
electorally important, such targeting efforts were central.
The incentive to target different groups therefore varied
dependent on the particular context, resulting in inconsistent
practice across our cases.
6Party Politics 0(0)
Finally, we also explore the extent to which parties used
data to test message effectiveness. Financial and time
limitations have historically limited partiesability to de-
velop highly differentiated, or multiple iterations of, cam-
paign messaging. Digital technology has, however, made it
easier for parties to test alternative messages, and to deliver
these easily at low cost.
In the Netherlands, for example, at
the 2021 election, the Facebook advertising archive showed
the CDA party to be running 40 different versions of one ad.
Similar experimentation was also evident at recent elections
in the UK and US. In other countries, such experimentation
was less evident despite platformsefforts to make it easier
for campaigns to execute such a strategy. Evidence from
Germany and the Netherlands suggests that parties often
lack the capacity (discussed further below) to experiment
and test campaign interventions within an election period,
meaning that little testing occurs. Even in places where
testing is common, our analysis suggested that parties
capacity to utilise these insights was limited, with evidence
from Canada showing that parties frequently failed to re-
view this data to monitor or evaluate campaign interven-
tions (Munroe and Munroe, 2018). Whilst parties are
therefore often interested in exploring the potential of
testing the effectiveness of messages, to date these practices
are not being as widely employed as is often assumed.
Our analysis therefore suggests data and analytics are an
important aspect of campaigning, and that in many of our
countries data is being used to develop models, to deliver
targeted and tested interventions, and to evaluate campaign
activity. However, the uptake and use of these tools is not
universal or as sophisticated as many prevailing accounts
imply. Whilst many parties are using the affordances pro-
vided by organisations such as Facebook to gain infor-
mation about voters and to tailor messaging, political parties
are largely using digital media to promote mundane and
well-established campaign targeting strategies within a
hybrid media system, and they are constrained in their
ability to micro-target and message test.
Data infrastructure
One often implicit implication of prevailing depictions of
DDC relates to the disruptive impact of data on campaign
(and party) organisation and the subsequent effects this has
on how these organisations engage with citizens. While the
work of Kreiss (2016) shows that such organisational
change has been a much longer term and uneven process,
contemporary arguments that data drivescampaign in-
terventions imply that modern campaigns invest resources
in data personnel and infrastructure, and position data and
analytics teams at the centre of campaign decision-making.
To investigate this, we asked team members whether parties
had paid staff to deal with data and analytics processes,
whether they paid external companies to undertake data and
analytics work on their behalf, and whether they had be-
spoke or generic data management systems (see Table A4).
We found investment in data and analytics staff within
parties across national contexts, but there was a clear divide
between major and minor parties and important variations
over the electoral cycle. In each of the cases major parties
were investing in paid staff to do data management work.
Whilst it is not possible to get precise details on stafng
from all parties due to a lack of transparency, US parties
appear to contain the largest data teams, with dozens of staff
devoted to this work within both the Democratic and Re-
publican parties. In contrast, parties in other countries
contain far smaller data teams, often composed of a handful
of individuals. Election dynamics directly affect parties
ability to do this work, as it is common in Australia,
Germany, the UK, Netherlands and US for major parties to
expand the size of their data teams in the run up to an
election, but outside the US this expanded capacity rarely
took data teams above 510 team members, and in minor
parties it was common to nd only 1-2 devoted employees,
if there were any. Staff understanding of data analytics
within partieswider campaign organisation is, however,
often limited. In Germany, for example, individuals rarely
have a background in data analysis, a point that became
apparent when, during one interview, a local political
campaign strategist asked what predictive modellingwas.
One possible alternative to developing in-house capac-
ities is the potential for parties to use external companies to
analyse data and to create models, and we found signicant
evidence of this. Developing the idea that parties are
drawing on a broader ecosystem of service providers
(Dommett et al., 2020), some major and minor parties paid
external companies to undertake such work. Companies
such as CrosbyTextor, Blue State Digital and Harris Media
worked with parties in multiple countries (i.e. UK, Aus-
tralia, Canada, Germany and the US), often (but not always)
working with parties with common ideological agendas.
There were also many specialist agencies who supported
and contributed to partiesdata activities. In the Nether-
lands, parties have collaborated with made2matter, SUE,
and Roundabout. In the US, both parties have purchased
data from vendors (e.g. i360 and Catalist). Looking across
the parties within our cases, we found that by no means all
parties used these services, with the nancial implications of
such relationships often acting as a key inhibitor on minor
Whilst data collection and analysis has become an im-
portant aspect of party campaigning, within our cases we
found campaign strategy was often not determined by data,
with other factors such as party leader/s preference or local
discretion instead determining how campaigning occurred.
Within the UK, for example, following the 2017 General
Election it was claimed that Theresa May elected not to
implement the data-drivenstrategy developed by the
Kefford et al. 7
consultancy rm CrosbyTextor and pursued her own
messaging (Valent Projects, 2020:34). Meanwhile in
Canada, Bennett (2015) has highlighted divisions within
parties between traditionalists relying on face-to-face
methods of canvassing and the new breed of high-tech
party workers, indicating that support for data-driven
techniques is not uniform within parties. We also found
evidence that party organisation and structure can affect the
extent of data inuence (Kefford, 2018). In-depth analysis
of organisational structures in the German SPD party and
organograms of the UK Labour Party, for example, have
shown data and analytics teams to be cut off from other
teams, limiting their inuence on partiesdecision-making.
Elsewhere, we found evidence that decentralised parties did
not always draw on data when making campaign inter-
ventions. In Germany, for example, the SPD lack a top-
down organisational structure to allow them to implement
and communicate a data-driven strategy in their different
local chapters, resulting in local activists making autono-
mous decisions often uninformed by data.
In terms of investment in data infrastructure, we found
many parties across the six advanced democracies were
using a bespoke data management system. The evidence
suggests there were a wide range of large and often so-
phisticated databases that allow parties to upload, store and
analyse information. In Germany, Canada, the UK and the
US, all the major parties were using bespoke systems,
while in the Netherlands and Australia this was only true of
some of the major parties. We also found evidence that
many parties adopted systems found in other countries,
often purchasing and adapting systems from the US for their
own needs. In the UK, for example, the Conservative Party
has purchased Voter Vaultwhich was developed for the
Republican Party, whilst in Canada the Liberal Party system
Liberalistis modelled on the VoteBuilder software utilised
by the Obama campaigns (Bennett and Bayley, 2018: 14). In
addition, we found evidence of parties using external
companies to store and manage data. NationBuilder, for
example, was used in Australia, Canada, Germany and the
UK, with parties often running activist management op-
erations and creating websites via this platform. Whilst
these off-the-shelfsystems are widely used by major and
minor parties in the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and the
UK, these systems were routinely described as glitchy and
difcult to use. Whilst many major parties had (often
limited) funds to invest in the maintenance and improve-
ment of these systems, or to supplement these services,
many minor parties did not have the resources to do so.
Cumulatively, data from our six countries suggests
parties almost universally recognise the importance of in-
vesting resources in data personnel and infrastructure,
however, many lacked the nancial resources to fund full-
time staff or expert advice, and found it challenging to
maintain often unwieldy databases. These challenges were
made more substantive by the boom and bustcycles of the
electoral calendar in major election years support comes
but dries up between elections. As such, even within major
parties, levels of investment were often low. Moreover, data
teams often remain peripheral parts of campaign organi-
sation and their inuence is not guaranteed, suggesting that
the disruptive impact of data may not be as extensive as
often claimed.
These ndings suggest that, as with data
collection and data use, evidence of how parties are in-
vesting in data infrastructure, does not reect the threat to
democratic norms and principles outlined in much existing
scholarship. Instead, we see evidence especially outside
the US of organisations struggling to keep pace with
broader changes in media, technology and political par-
ticipation. DDC is expensive, and many political parties do
not have the resources to invest in bespoke systems or large
numbers of data and analytics personnel.
In setting out to study DDC across our six cases, we found
sustained evidence of parties collecting data, identifying
particular audiences for messaging, creating models and
investing in infrastructure either within or beyond their
organisation. However, in contrast to prevailing accounts
that have offered a fairly uniform depiction of the role data
plays in campaigns and the disruptive inuence it is having
on parties, our analysis demonstrates variations in how data
is collected, used and resourced both between and within
cases. Recognising this diversity, our conclusions have
implications for current debates around the impact of DDC.
It is often claimed that changes in the technological, media
and social landscape have led parties to engage in hyper-
intensive data practices including subversive and invasive
forms of online data collection, sophisticated proling,
highly personalised targeting and real-time campaign
evaluation. Whilst these practices can be found within the
US, there is variation even within this case. Even more
starkly, our evidence suggests these practices are not
common in the other ve advanced democracies examined.
Indeed, we show that many aspects of partiesdata col-
lection and analysis are long-standing and largely mundane,
whilst their data infrastructure is often curtailed and fre-
quently does not drivedecision-making. There is therefore
little evidence of parties conducing sophisticated data
scraping operations, instead they tend to rely on basic, state
provided information complemented with simple voter
canvassing and information about voting behaviour and
issue positions. Whilst there is evidence that parties are
supplementing this information with new forms of data
gathered online and are utilising the affordances provided
by platforms to identify target audiences, much day-to-day
data use builds on longstanding principles of audience
identication and engagement, focussing on broad appeals
8Party Politics 0(0)
rather than targeting at the individual level. It may therefore
be technically possible for parties to collect ne-grained
data, and to personalise political messages, but in practice
we nd that many parties engage in what Kefford (2021)
describes as narrowcasting. Our ndings therefore suggest
that developments in digital technology, media and broader
society are not transforming data practices, but are
prompting them to evolve.
Reaching these conclusions, our analysis suggests there
is value in moving away from a media-centricaccount of
DDC that focuses on the transformational and disruptive
impact of new media developments. Instead, it encourages a
focus on campaign organisations, inviting us to explore how
in different countries these organisations are adapting to the
technological and societal developments they confront. In
utilising a party-centricapproach, our analysis suggests
that rather than data being a disruptive force that is trans-
forming contemporary election campaigning, we see long-
standing power differentials maintained, and in some cases
reied because of the labour, capital, and skill needed to
conduct campaigning. DDC, we argue, is therefore not
inherently problematic or deterministic, but is a diverse set
of practices that reect a new era of democracy in which
technology giants exercise signicant power, the traditional
media landscape is fragmenting and changing modes of
citizen participation are creating new expectations about
There is also little evidence to suggest that these practices
are inherently a threat to democracy, while also recognising
the dangers for individual privacy. While not the primary
focus of our analysis, these ndings are worth discussing in
terms of how they affect the competition between parties in
each of our countries. It is certainly true that DDC is labour
and capital intensive, and this has the potential to contribute
to the dominance of the major parties which are often highly
resourced at the expense of new or emerging parties.
However, we would suggest that while DDC is a feature of
party campaigning in many advanced democracies, the
efcacy of these campaigns remains a source of debate
(Broockman and Kalla, 2020;Kalla and Broockman, 2018).
Likewise, there is little to suggest that these practices are
inherently strengthening the linkage role that parties are
theoretically meant to play. While DDC may assist parties in
mobilising members and supporters and often manifests in
ofine practices such as an increased emphasis on direct
voter contact, there is insufcient evidence to conclude that
this is assisting parties in placing themselves as the central
node between citizens and the state or even that political
parties wish for this to be the case. We therefore argue that it
is not the case that DDC is disrupting democracy, but
democratic developments such as a fragmenting media
landscape, changes in political participation and techno-
logical advances are disrupting campaign practices.
This study certainly has limitations. We acknowledge the
inconsistency of data, and particularly highlight the com-
parably limited data our experts were able to gather on the
Canadian case. These variations mean that certain con-
clusions, particularly in relation to Canada, should be
caveated (Table A4). Our data also focuses on six countries
where DDC use is already established. These cases should
therefore not be used to generalise to other countries whose
adoption of these techniques may be less advanced. Despite
these limitations, we contend that this article has made a
signicant contribution to our understanding of DDC,
providing an important corrective to arguments DDC is
disrupting democracy. Instead, we argue that democratic
developments such as a fragmenting media landscape,
changes in political participation and technological ad-
vances are disrupting campaign practices.
Declaration of conicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conicts of interest with re-
spect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following nancial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This
work was supported by the Australian Research Council
(190100210), the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/
N01667X/1), the Canada Research Chairs program (950-231159),
McMaster University Faculty of Humanities, the NORFACE Joint
Research Programme on Democratic Governance in a Turbulent
Age and co-funded by ESRC, NWO, FWF and the European
Commission through Horizon 2020 under grant agreement No
Glenn Kefford
Katharine Dommett
Jessica Baldwin-Philippi
Sara Bannerman
Tom Dobber
Simon Kruschinski
1. Our focus on the run up to election campaigns should be noted
as our data suggests that the use of DDC uctuates throughout
the electoral cycle. We found, for example, that increased levels
of stafng and resource are devoted to DDC in the run up to
elections, and that activity is often sparse after an election
occurs. This suggests the importance of further analysis of the
use of DDC in non-electoral periods, but such consideration is
beyond the scope of this particular article.
Kefford et al. 9
2. For example, Facebookslookalikeaudience feature or Na-
tionBuilderssocial media matchingfeature.
3. Accumulated voter data from statistical ofces of the state
(residential districts, age, education, household size, proportion
of foreigners, religious afliation, unemployment rate) and
accumulated voter data from the Federal Election Commis-
sioner can be accessed for free throughout the year (past
election results, voter turnout).
4. We found examples of variation in the scripts that were used by
different parties that showed some parties, for example, to
gather data on votersinterests, concerns or willingness to
display a poster at election time.
5. This inspired similar data harvesting operations in their sister
party in Australia the Australian Labor Party, and Australias
other major party, the Liberal Party, were also employing
similar data harvesting techniques (Kefford, 2021:7779).
6. As an example, Facebooks Dynamic Creative tool, which
automates design variations of adverts, allows campaigns with
few resources to easily create and test a variety of adverts,
allowing them to run signicantly more message variations in
that platform. This hints to the fact that especially legally
restricted European parties can utilise companies such as
Facebook to facilitate targeting.
7. By bespoke we mean that the data management system has been
built specically for that party rather than the party uses a
system from an off-the-shelfprovider such as NationBuilder.
8. Interesting variations at the federal and provincial level in
Canada have been revealed by McKelvey and Piebiak (2018).
9. Indeed, even in the US the centrality of data teams is debatable
and Baldwin-Philippi (2019), has noted how digital and data
teams often support all mobilisation and persuasion campaign
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Appendix 1
Table A1 Comparing Data Across Our 6 Cases.
Type of data
Number of
and type
Type of document
analysed Period of data collection Number of parties
Australia Interviews,
167 including
candidates, party
ofcials and
Internal party documents
Public party documents
Party websites
Media coverage
20152020 6 (2 major, 4 minor)
Australian Labor Party
Liberal Party of Australia
Australian Greens
The Nationals
Pauline Hansons One Nation
The Nick Xenophon Team
Canada Documentary
0 Government documents
(Elections Canada;
Ofce of the Privacy
Commissioner of
Canada); political
partiesprivacy policies;
secondary sources
(academic and news
20122020 5 (2 major, 3 minor)
Liberal Party of Canada
Conservative Party of Canada
New Democratic Party
Green Party
Bloc Quebecois
Germany Interviews,
analysis and
content analysis
of Facebook,
Google and
Snapchat ad
43 (with 53
candidates, party
ofcials, campaign
strategists; and
Internal party documents
(Political parties
privacy policies; ethical
guidelines for DDC)
Public party documents
Party websites
Media coverage
Government documents
(Ofce of the Privacy
Memoires and rst-hand
Parliamentary Reports
Regulatory reports or
Non-prot institution
2014-2018 state elections
20172021 federal elections
7 (2 major, 5 minor)
Social Democratic Party;
Christian Democratic Union;
Christian Social Union;
The Greens;
Free Democratic Party;
The Left;
Alternative for Germany
Netherlands Interviews,
analysis and
content analysis
of Facebook,
Google and
Snapchat ad
8 Public party documents,
nancial reports
20162021 (8 parties were
interviewed in 2016
[Labour Party, D66, CDA,
Green Left, Christian
Union, Seniors Party,
Reformed Political Party,
Socialist Party]. Four
parties that were
interviewed in 2016, were
also interviewed in 2021
[D66, GreenLeft,
ChristianUnion, Labour
Party]. Content analysis
was conducted in 2019 and
2021. Analysis of
documents occurred
between 2016 and 2021)
16 (6 major, 10 minor)
Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy
Democrats 66
Party for Freedom
Christian Democratic Appeal
Labour Party
Green Left
Socialist Party
Christian Union
Forum for Democracy
Volt Netherlands
Party for the Animals
Right Answer 2021
Reformed Political Party
Farmers Party
Bij1 (2gether)
UK Interviews,
analysis and
content analysis
of Facebook and
Including with party
staff, campaign
consultants, and
Internal party documents
Public party documents
Party websites
Media coverage
Memoires and rst-hand
Parliamentary Reports
Regulatory reports or
Financial spending returns
20152018; 2021 6 (2 major, 4 minor)
Labour Party
Conservative Party
Liberal Democrats
Scottish National Party
United Kingdom Independence Party
US Interviews and
13, including party
staff, and campaign
(some of whom
have worked in
both positions)
Public party documents
Party websites
Media coverage
Financial spending returns
20182020 2 (2 major)
Democratic Party
Republican Party
12 Party Politics 0(0)
Table A2 Data Collection in Six Advanced Democracies
None Some minor All minor Some major All major Other
To what extent do parties in your country collect data through canvassing activity?
Netherlands X X
Germany X X
Canada X X
Australia X X
To what extent do parties in your country collect data through online activity?
Netherlands X
Germany X X
Canada X X
Australia X X
To what extent do parties in your country have access to data from the state?
Netherlands X
Germany X X
Canada X X
Australia X X
To what extent do parties in your country purchase data from companies such as data brokers?
Netherlands X
Germany X X
Canada X X
Australia X X
To what extent do parties in your country conduct private polling to gather data?
Nation X
Nation X X
Nation X X
Nation X X
Nation X X
Nation X
* means response comes with caveats based on limited data available to the researcher
Table A3 Data Use in Six Advanced Democracies.
None Some minor All minor Some major All major Other
To what extent do parties identify groups of voters with certain characteristics to target campaign interventions at?
Netherlands X X
Germany X X
Canada X* X*
Australia X X
To what extent do parties create models that prole voters?
Netherlands X X
Germany X X
Kefford et al. 13
Table A3 (continued)
None Some minor All minor Some major All major Other
To what extent do parties identify groups of voters with certain characteristics to target campaign interventions at?
Canada X*
Australia X X
To what extent do parties use data and analytics techniques to create scores about how likely voters are to be
Netherlands X X
Germany X X
Canada X X
UK X* X*
Australia X X
To what extent do parties use data and analytics techniques to create scores about how persuadable voters are likely to
Netherlands X X
Germany X
Canada X*
UK X* X*
Australia X X
Table A4 Data Use in Six Advanced Democracies.
None Some minor All minor Some major All major Other
To what extent do parties have paid staff devoted to work on data management and analysis?
Netherlands X* X*
Germany X X
Canada X*
Australia X X
To what extent do parties pay external companies to analyse data and create?
Netherlands X X
Germany X X
Canada X X
Australia X
To what extent do parties have a data management system that is bespoke to the party, meaning it was either designed
or adapted for a specic partiespurpose and is not a generic system used by many others, for example, Voter vault,
Netherlands X* X*
Germany X*X
Canada X X
Australia X
14 Party Politics 0(0)
Author Biographies
Glenn Kefford is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science in
the School of Political Science and International Studies
at the University of Queensland and the author of Po-
litical Parties and Campaigning in Australia: Data,
Digital and Field.
Katharine Dommett is a Senior Lecturer in the Public
Understanding of Politics in the Department of Politics and
International Relations at the University of Shefeld and the
author of The Reimagined Party: Democracy, Change and
the Public.
Jessica Baldwin-Philippi is an Associate Professor at Ford-
ham University and the author of Using technology,
building democracy: Digital campaigning and the con-
struction of citizenship.
Sara Bannerman is the Canada Research Chair in Commu-
nication Policy and Governance at McMaster University and
the author of International Copyright and Access to Knowledge.
Tom Dobber is an assistant professor in the department of
Political Communication & Journalism of the University of
Simon Kruschinski is a Research Higher Degree student in
the Department of Communication, Johannes Gutenberg
University Mainz, Germany.
Sanne Kruikemeier is an Associate Professor in Political
Communication and Journalism in the Communication
Science department of the University of Amsterdam.
Erica Rzepecki is a Research Higher Degree student at
McMaster University.
Table A4 (continued)
None Some minor All minor Some major All major Other
To what extent do parties have paid staff devoted to work on data management and analysis?
To what extent do parties use a data management system that is not bespoke but is rather used in a number of different
countries or parties, for example, NationBuilder or ecanvasser?
Netherlands X
Germany X
Canada X X
Australia X X
Kefford et al. 15
... Data-driven campaigning has been the focus of public and academic attention already since the 2008 Obama campaign and even earlier (Stromer-Galley, 2019). Most existing research so far, however, has focused on election campaigns (Anstead, 2017;Bennett & Lyon, 2019;Chadwick & Stromer-Galley, 2016;Howard, 2005;Kefford et al., 2022;Montigny et al., 2019;Stromer-Galley, 2019), while referendum campaigns have been generally overlooked (see Udris & Eisenegger, 2023). Probably the one big exception from this common trend has been the highly prominent 2016 Brexit referendum campaign on whether the UK should leave the European Union. ...
... I use this specific case study to raise two broader theoretical points that open directions for research on other referendum campaigns as well. First, following original research that has dispelled the myths of digital campaigning (Anstead, 2018;Baldwin-Philippi, 2017;Kefford et al., 2022;Simon, 2019), I argue that despite overblown fears about psychological profiling and individualised targeted advertising, some of the most problematic occurrences in terms of data management actually resulted from bad organisational practices and the concentration of power in the hands of unelected businessmen. In both pro-and anti-Brexit campaigns, the people ended up being "spectators in their democracy" (Edelman, 1988, as cited in Stromer-Galley, 2019 with no control over how their data was collected, managed, and sometimes misused. ...
... Most recently, an empirical study of data-driven campaigning in six-advanced democracies has shown that rather than causing a full-fledged disruption, data-driven campaigning has adapted to pre-existing campaigning techniques and is in practice much less sophisticated than what dystopian texts on democratic decline assume (Kefford et al., 2022). ...
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While the Brexit referendum campaign has been extensively researched, media, regulatory bodies, and academics have often talked at cross-purposes. A strong focus on Cambridge Analytica's role in the 2016 referendum, despite official investigations concluding the company had only limited involvement in the campaign, has distracted attention from more mundane but highly controversial data practices, including selling voters' data to third parties or re-using campaign data without consent from data subjects. This empirical case study of data-driven referendum campaigning around Brexit raises two broader theoretical questions: First, moving beyond the current focus on transparency and accountability, can public participation in the ownership and management of campaign data address some of the problematic data practices out-lined? Second, most academic literature on data-driven campaigning, in general, and referendum campaigns, in particular, has often overlooked the key question of what happens with campaigning data once campaigns are over. What legal safeguards or mechanisms of accountability and participation are there to guarantee consent when it comes to further re-use of people's data gathered during campaigns? Ultimately, the article raises the question of who should have a say in how "people's data" is used in referendum campaigns and afterwards and makes a case for democratising such decisions.
... As a result, the scholarly findings on its use almost exclusively reflect the country's specific systemic and intraparty conditions. However, European countries differ from the United States in key areas at the systemic and party level which influence how parties are able to use DPA (for an overview, see Kefford et al., 2022;Kruschinski & Bene, 2022): On the system level, European countries have multiparty systems, strict data protection regimes, or strict campaign rules on donations or political advertising. On the party level, European parties rather have low financial resources and digital marketing know-how. ...
... First studies (Kefford et al., 2022;Kruschinski & Bene, 2022; about the use of DPA in Germany show that all parties draw on Facebook advertising. In comparison to US-campaigns, the spending and sophistication of DPA practices are rather basic (Kefford et al., 2022). ...
... First studies (Kefford et al., 2022;Kruschinski & Bene, 2022; about the use of DPA in Germany show that all parties draw on Facebook advertising. In comparison to US-campaigns, the spending and sophistication of DPA practices are rather basic (Kefford et al., 2022). However, in a comparison between European countries, German parties bought most Facebook ads, and invested the largest budget on them during the 2019 European Parliament election (Kruschinski & Bene, 2022). ...
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One central measure set out in the regulation of digital political advertising (DPA) concentrates on transparency disclaimers to make users aware that the respective content was bought and targeted at them with a specific intention by an advertiser. However, we lack scientific evidence about if and how users perceive transparency disclaimers of DPA on social media. This article aims to provide first empirical answers to these questions by drawing on a two‐part eye‐tracking study with 177 participants that compares the effect of different prominent ad disclaimers (i.e., versions previously [V1] and currently [V2] used by Facebook as well as a self‐designed [V3] disclaimer version) on the perception of DPA. We show that most users do not fixate on the ad disclaimers regardless of their prominence, nor does the prominence of the disclaimers affect the perceived intrusiveness and acceptance of the DPA. However, the recall and ad recognition were significantly lower for the less prominent ad disclaimers used by Facebook compared to our self‐designed more prominent version, pointing to the shortcomings of the platform's current transparency rules. Altogether, our study allows a more substantiated discussion about how DPA is recognized and evaluated by users, which contributes to the debate about incorporating regulations for DPA.
... Early Scholarship has tended to avoid defining what precisely is meant by DDC (Dommett et al., 2023), but in a general sense they have pointed to advancements in how parties collect and analyse data (especially voter data) which have changed campaigning practices (Nickerson and Rogers, 2014). Although the specific practices adopted can vary across party and country (Dobber et al., 2017;Kefford et al., 2022), central to all accounts is the notion that data allows parties to campaign in ever more precise and efficient ways. ...
... Running an intensive DDC requires significant resources. While in principle micro-targeting may offer smaller parties and challenger candidates the chance to reach out to under-mobilized and new niche groups, emerging studies have suggested that parties' ability to deploy DDC is affected by available resources (Kruschinski and Haller, 2017), to the benefit of large parties (Kefford et al., 2022). Indeed, Nickerson and Rogers (2014) argue "that the growing impact of data analytics in campaigns has amplified the importance of traditional campaign work" (2014, p. 71) which parties with large numbers of volunteers can do more easily. ...
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Political campaigns are increasingly described as data-driven, as parties collect and analyse large quantities of voter data to target their campaign messages in ever more granular ways, particularly online. These practices have increasingly been facing calls for greater regulation due to the range of harms they are seen to pose for citizens and democracy more generally. Such harms include the intrusions on voter privacy, reduced transparency in how messages are constructed and targeted at voters and exposure to increasingly divisive and polarizing political content. Given that data-driven campaigning (DDC) encompasses a range of different practices that are likely to fall under the remit of multiple agencies, it is not evident how suitable current regulatory frameworks are for addressing the harms associated with the growth of DDC. This paper takes a first step toward addressing that question by mapping an emergent regulatory “ecosystem” for DDC in the particular case of the UK. Specifically, we collect and analyse interview data from a range of regulators working directly or indirectly in the election campaigns and communication arena. Our analysis shows that while privacy violations associated with DDC are seen by regulators to be largely well covered by current legislation, other potential harms are given lesser to no priority. These gaps appear to be due to regulators lacking either the powers or the incentives to intervene.
To the detriment of liberal democracy, governments have struggled to prevent the exploitation of personal data for voter manipulation in the digital era. Laws pertaining to political microtargeting are often piecemeal and tend to derive from a combination of laws on electoral advertising and privacy. Evidence indicates that this approach is insufficient to curtail microtargeting. However, little is known about the regulation of microtargeting outside of the European and US contexts within which the bulk of anti‐microtargeting research has been undertaken. Accordingly, this paper aims to shed light on the preparedness of the law in Australia and New Zealand to mitigate the potential harms of political microtargeting. A comparative analysis of legislation pertaining to microtargeting is therefore undertaken using a blended approach of comparative law and content analysis. This paper: (1) identifies current legislation relevant to microtargeting in Australia and New Zealand; (2) assesses patterns of similarity and difference between each country's laws in relation to microtargeting; and (3) evaluates the preparedness of current legislation to curtail microtargeting in an evolving social media landscape. It finds that in both countries, legislation is sufficiently robust to mitigate microtargeting in some limited circumstances, but a cohesive regulatory approach is needed to constrain the most insidious microtargeting operations.
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Garantizar la integridad de las elecciones constituye un objetivo prioritario de los Estados democráticos. Las elecciones en el mundo digitalizado evidencian un elenco interminable de amenazas cuyo epicentro parte de la datificación y del uso de herramientas y técnicas al servicio de la manipulación de la voluntad política. La exigencia de transparencia, y la definición de sus requisitos, para los proveedores de la publicidad política, así como la prohibición de técnicas de segmentación de este tipo de publicidad especialmente durante la campaña electoral constituyen un deber jurídico inaplazable para el legislador nacional y europeo. De ahí que en este trabajo se analice la propuesta de la Comisión del Reglamento del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo sobre la transparencia y la segmentación política, tras la fijación de posición del Parlamento Europeo (febrero 2023), y se reflexione sobre algunas de sus implicaciones y efectos en la normativa electoral española.
Discussions of data-driven campaigning have gained increased prominence in recent years. Often associated with the practices of Cambridge Analytica and linked to debates about the health of modern democracy, scholars have devoted considerable attention to the rise of data-driven politics. However, most studies to date have focused solely on practice in the US, and few scholars have made efforts to define the precise meaning of ‘data-driven campaigning’. With growing recognition that data-driven campaigning can take different forms dependent on context and available resource, new questions have emerged as to exactly what features are indicative of this phenomena. In this piece we systematically review existing discussions of data-driven campaigning to unpack the components of this idea. Identifying areas of convergence and divergence in existing discussions of ‘data’, ‘driven’, and ‘campaigning’, we classify existing debate to highlight integral features and variable practices. This article accordingly provides the first comprehensive definition of data-driven campaigning, and aims to facilitate international study of this activity.
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Democracy is valuable and vulnerable, which is reason enough to remain alert for new developments that can undermine her. In recent months, we have seen enough examples of the growing impact of personal data in campaigns and elections. It is important and urgent for us to publicly debate this development. At the same time, we need to stay cool-headed. New technologies have a huge impact, but human nature will not suddenly change due to ‘big data’ and its use.
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Political micro-targeting (PMT) has become a popular topic both in academia and in the public discussions after the surprise results of the 2016 US presidential election, the UK vote on leaving the European Union, and a number of general elections in Europe in 2017. Yet, we still know little about whether PMT is a tool with such destructive potential that it requires close societal control, or if it’s “just” a new phenomenon with currently unknown capacities, but which can ultimately be incorporated into our political processes. In this article we identify the points where we think we need to further develop our analytical capacities around PMT. We argue that we need to decouple research from the US context, and through more non-US and comparative research we need to develop a better understanding of the macro, meso, and micro level factors that affect the adoption and success of PMTs across different countries. One of the most under-researched macro-level factors is law. We argue that PMT research must develop a better understanding of law, especially in Europe, where the regulatory frameworks around platforms, personal data, political and commercial speech do shape the use and effectiveness of PMT. We point out that the incorporation of such new factors calls for the sophistication of research designs, which currently rely too much on qualitative methods, and use too little of the data that exists on PMT. And finally, we call for distancing PMT research from the hype surrounding the new PMT capabilities, and the moral panics that quickly develop around its uses.
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The use of big data in political campaigns extends far beyond micro-targeting, and has been singled out by journalists and campaign staffers alike as a powerful force that is integral to electoral victory. Current scholarship on the subject remains more mixed, however. This article provides an overview of what we know (and don’t yet know) about the effects of data-campaigning across various goals of political campaigns, alongside more public facing narratives that present data campaigning as an all-powerful tactic, highlighting the gap between these two views.
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Researchers in psychology have long known that preferences are constructed in the decision-making process, influenced by choice environments that trigger unconscious biases and heuristics. As a result, choices, including those of voters, can be manipulated by political information. Personalised political messages, designed to influence based on detailed personal profiles, can undermine voter autonomy. We suggest that these practices should therefore be regulated, and discuss policy options and approaches, specifically the appropriate balance between freedom of political speech and privacy rights and interests, the implications of voter analytics for the electoral process, and how and by whom sophisticated voter analytics practices should be regulated.
Cambridge Core - Computing and Society - Retooling Politics - by Andreas Jungherr
Field experiments document near-zero marginal effects of most campaign advertising on vote choice in US general elections. Some interpret this finding as evidence of "partisan intoxication"---that contemporary American voters remain loyal to their parties even when confronted with new information. We present new evidence consistent with an informational interpretation of this finding: that voters are rarely persuaded by additional information about candidates they know a great deal about, but are more open to persuasion about candidates about whom they know less. The 2020 US Presidential election represents an opportunity to test these competing perspectives due to the presence of one candidate about whom most Americans are very familiar by virtue of his four years in office, Donald Trump, and another about whom Americans know less, Joe Biden. We conducted survey experiments (n=113,742) exposing each individual in a treatment group to two of 291 unique pro- or anti- Trump or Biden messages. Our results are consistent with an informational interpretation of many persuasive effects in campaigns and their absence. We show that vote choice in the 2020 US Presidential election changes in response to both pro- and anti-Biden messages, but that genuine effects of pro- and anti-Trump messages were between much smaller and non-existent. Further consistent with an informational interpretation, we show that vague messages about Biden are significantly less effective than those that offer specific information about him, and that evaluations of Biden are also significantly more malleable than evaluations of Trump. Positive information about Biden also causes Republican voters to cross party lines and say they would support him. These results would likely change if campaigns were to better inform voters about Biden, but raise a puzzle of why nearly all Democratic campaign advertising in the 2020 US Presidential election has focused on Trump instead of Biden.
This article sets out the case that democracies are now entering a fourth phase of “data-driven” political campaigning. Building on the existing campaigns literature, we identify several key shifts in practice that define the new phase, namely: (1) an organizational and strategic dependency on digital technology and “big data,” (2) a reliance on networked communication, (3) the individualized micro-targeting of campaign messages, and (4) the internationalization of the campaign sphere. Departing from prior studies, we also argue that the new phase is distinguished, by a bifurcation, into two variants—the scientific and the subversive. While sharing a common core, these two modes differ, in that the former retains a commitment to the normative goals of campaigning, that is, to mobilize and inform voters, while the latter explicitly rejects and subverts these aims, focusing instead on demobilization and the spread of misinformation. Both are presented as abstract or “ideal” types, although we do point out how features of each have appeared in recent election campaigns by mainstream and populist parties. We conclude by discussing the implications of these trends for the long-term future health of democracy.