Beating the polls

If you’re familiar with the concept of Big Data you’ll know that by using special software analysts are able to measure huge amounts of varied data, extremely quickly.

This means that in the next few years measuring the unmeasurable on the web such as emotion, opinion and things that haven’t happened yet, will be an everyday occurrence.

Big DataIf you were staying up on the 7th May, you were probably watching the first UK General Election result come through from Houghton & Sunderland South. It was a labour-hold, but one of a few according to a surprising exit poll. Conducted by the BBC, it illustrated a late-coming Conservative victory.

This was a dramatic change from the earlier opinion polls carried out throughout the election campaigns which almost unanimously called the election ‘too close to call’.

And because they got it so wrong, an inquiry is now being set up into the practices and methodology of professional pollsters – how they do it, how accurate it is, and why we spent so much money doing it.


A recent Guardian article explains how things really changed during the 2008 US Presidential Election. Barack Obama’s successful campaign was heavily backed by a strong and pioneering use of Social Media marketing. Not only was it cheaper than traditional door-to-door canvassing, it was also more personal and could react to events in real time.

This led to targeted, rather than national broadcasting, focussing in on local issues and personal reactions and helped to make people feel more a part of the campaign.

This goes some way to explain why the Conservatives spent £100,000 a month on Facebook.

2020 X-Ray vision

At the time of the next General Election, we will be into the second decade of digital polling. Messages will come to you from the various political parties via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and all the new social networks that will spring up in the next five years.

What’s more, parties will be able to target their messages based upon what they already know about their potential voters: their location, demographic and, according to the same Guardian article, the online newspapers they read, what school they went to and whether they’ve been tweeting about the NHS.

So where does Big Data come into all of this?

In the next five years, we will be seeing companies, industries and countries embrace the ideas around Big Data, and the extraordinary insight it can give – just as long as you are asking the right questions.

Big Data is based around three key principles:

Volume: measuring the huge amounts of data that the web produces every day.

Variety: measuring all sorts of information, from text to pictures to video.

Velocity: collating and analysing this data extremely quickly.

But the real beauty about Big Data is that once you have all this data, you can start to predict the future with a never-before seen degree of accuracy.

As a result, in five years’ time, we may truly know who has won the election before the votes come in.

But if there’s any doubt, we could always stay up until 6am again watching the news.

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