Lessons from the White House as Australia’s first big data election looms

Date: February 14, 2013 Category:

A former Liberal Party staffer who left politics at the end of 2011 agrees that public sensitivity would be a big concern. Simeon Duncan, now director of public affairs at Hill+Knowlton in Canberra, says both parties would be keen to avoid being “too intrusive”.

“The last thing they would want to do is give [voters] the impression that Big Brother is watching them,” he says.

The main database used by the Liberal Party is called Feedback; the Labor Party has a similar software system called Electrac.

Peter van Onselen, a former Liberal Party staff member who completed his doctorate on the topic in 2005, says the main component is public data from the electoral roll augmented by information saved when an elector deals with the MP’s office.

He expects, but doesn’t know, that the systems would be greatly improved since then, with greater use of information from commercial lists and social media.

During the US election, the Nate Silver phenomenon came to the fore. Silver predicted the outcome of the election with uncanny accuracy simply by aggregating data from all the polls and crunching the numbers.


Labor is certainly ahead in social media. Julia Gillard has 154,000 likes on Facebook and 341,500 followers on Twitter; Tony AbbottThe Hon. Tony Abbott MP Federal Member for Warringah Prime Minister from 18.9.13 to 15.9.15 has 29,000 likes and 99,100 Twitter followers.

Unfortunately for Gillard, it might not make a great deal of difference. “It’s preaching to the converted,” says Duncan of Hill+Knowlton.