The latest polling out of Iowa shows Senator Ted Cruz leapfrogging Donald Trump to first place in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Nationally, he has surged to second place, nearly doubling his support from November. Cruz’s recent upsurge may be the result of controversial data mining techniques.
The use of personal information to get an edge in elections is not new, nor is it limited to Republicans. President Obama relied heavily on data-driven engineering strategies in his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. But the fact that Cruz is using this information isn’t causing a stir – it’s how it was obtained.
The Cruz campaign’s top financier is Robert Mercer, a New York hedge fund manager who has given $11 million to a super PAC supporting Cruz. Mercer is also an owner of Cambridge Analytica, the United States affiliate of the London group SCL, which does “psychographic” analyses of voters in order to effectively target messages to them. Cambridge Analytica, in turn, is working closely with Cruz’s campaign, including up some staff members at Cruz campaign headquarters in Houston. This year alone, the campaign has spent at least $750,000 for their services. (Ben Carson’s campaign also uses Cambridge Analytica, spending approximately $220,000 this year, but his campaign is not as closely aligned with Mercer.)
Cambridge Analytica offers an unmatched offering of psychological data on Facebook users, due largely to research performed by Cambridge University’s Dr. Aleksandr Kogan. Kogan recruited individuals through Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace Mechanical Turk. Interested Mechanical Turkers were paid one dollar to take a personality questionnaire that gave access to their Facebook profiles. Those who took the survey unwittingly handed over not only their own Facebook data
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