March 26, 2016
Featured by The Economist.
DONALD TRUMP, THE Republican front-runner for the American presidency, is clearly riding a wave of anger—but he is also wielding a huge virtual megaphone to spread his populist messages. “@realDonaldTrump”, the Twitter account of the property magnate turned politician, has more than 7m followers and the number is rising by about 50,000 every day. Moreover, since each of his tweets is re-tweeted thousands of times and often quoted in mainstream media, his real audience is much bigger. And if he does win the Republican nomination, it will be hard to tune him out. “How do you fight millions of dollars of fraudulent commercials pushing for crooked politicians?” he tweeted in early March. “I will be using Facebook & Twitter. Watch!”
If Ted Cruz, his fellow Republican, were to clinch the nomination, the campaign for America’s presidency would be quieter—but no less digital. Mr Cruz’s victory in the Iowa primaries was based on effective number-crunching. He bombarded potential supporters with highly targeted ads on Facebook, and used algorithms to label voters as “stoic traditionalists”, “temperamental conservatives” or “true believers” to give campaign volunteers something to go on. He also sent official-looking “shaming” letters to potential supporters who had previously abstained from voting. Under the headline “Voting Violation”, the letters reminded recipients of their failure to do their civic duty at the polls and compared their voting records with those of their neighbours.
The way these candidates are fighting their campaigns, each in his own way, is proof that politics as usual is no longer an option. The internet and the availability of huge piles of data on everyone and everything are transforming the democratic process, just as they are upending many industries. They are becoming a force in all kinds of things, from running election campaigns and organising protest movements to improving public policy and the delivery of services. This special report will argue that, as a result, the relationship between citizens and those who govern them is changing fundamentally.