The role of geolocation data in U.S. political campaigning: How digital political strategists perceive it


The use of geolocation data by political campaigns is often the subject of media concern. Research has investigated the role of data in and use by political campaigns, but less attention has been paid to digital political strategists largely responsible for decisions behind the assemblage and mining of voter databases to deliver micro-targeted messages on behalf of political campaigns. In this study, we conducted interviews with 14 leading industry professionals in the United States to examine the common scenarios and associated concerns of using geolocation data to target voters. Our findings reveal that geolocation data are an important asset in political campaigns, but their value is contingent on additional factors. Concerns regarding geolocation data, as interviewees suggested, may at times be influenced more by the popular media narratives than the true reality of data, their scope, and associated capabilities. Our results point to geolocation data’s greatest usefulness to campaigns not in their own right, but when data are paired with other insights about voters’ behaviors. Ultimately, the lack of industry regulation reveals discrepancies in best practices and raises concerns over the potential misuse of geolocation data in the political space.