Big Data is Shaping Australian Politics

Sophisticated data mining software used to elect Donald Trump has notched up another win in Australia and could be used in the country’s next national election.

The i360 software program was used by the Liberal Party in its recent successful campaign in the state of South Australia and is under consideration by the party’s other state branches and also nationally.

The Liberal’s director in South Australia, Sascha Meldrum, told local media the Party had “embraced modern technology in campaigning.”

"This is critical to developing policies that tackle key issues and are able to communicate with voters clearly," said Meldrum, who has reportedly made several trips to the US state of Ohio. The state is considered to have the best practice regarding center-right campaigning.

The South Australian Liberals recently took the Government for the first time in 16 years. Party sources believe i360 made a significant contribution in identifying swinging voters in marginal seats.

The program aggregates data from different sources, and its algorithm then identifies voters who are yet to make up their minds. In a marginal electorate of 25,000 voters, i360 was reportedly able to identify 1,000 voters who have yet to make a decision and understand their “hot button” issues. Once identified, the party is then able to focus on them to win their vote.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, and party sources say this makes the i360 an even more viable investment. In other democracies where voting is voluntary, the first step is to get swinging or apathetic voters motivated actually to vote. In Australia, what is needed is to persuade people once they are in the voting booth.

This is the first time i360 was used outside of the US. It was developed with funding from the Koch brothers, whose industrial conglomerate is the second largest private business in the US, for an estimated USD 300 million.

The South Australian Liberals are reportedly paying around AUD 25,000 per month for the program, and fully intend to use it at the next election due in 2022. Liberals in the adjoining state of Victoria also plan to use it when they next go to the polls.

The Federal Liberal party, headed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is reportedly examining i360 for potential use at the next national election.

The reports about i360 come in the context of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without authorization.

A recent survey showed that two in five Australians are nervous about social media companies accessing their personal information. The study by Pureprofile also showed that one in four Australians has considered closing their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.