Data-Crunched Democracy: Watershed Conference Looks at Use of Personal Data in Political Campaigns

The rise of data-mining in American political campaigns is the topic for political practitioners, journalists, policymakers, and academics at a day-long conference May 31 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. Do you know?

  • If you registered at the Obama-Biden website you gave the campaign permission to use any data collected about you in any number of ways, including buying more information as well as the right to give your personal information to other organizations?
  • If you were a fan of the Romney Facebook site, the campaign could buy a Facebook ad – that includes a photo of you from your Facebook page – that is sent to your Facebook friends proclaiming your support of Romney?

These are just two examples of how the collection of data about Americans is becoming part of the democratic process. The 2012 election was a watershed step towards more sophisticated analyses of voters and electoral strategy more generally.  In its aftermath we have seen both the celebration of big data and some very prominent critiques on the pages of newspapers, magazines and blogs. Two key questions still nag: What is really happening with Americans’ data in the political realm? And what should we do about it? “Data-Crunched Democracy: Where do we go from here?” will explore answers to these and related questions that cut to the heart of the country’s democratic future in the digital age.

  • How does voter targeting work now? Where is it headed?
  • Are the concerns of critics who fear a loss of privacy valid?
  • Should we fear the growth of a political culture centered on data mining and message personalization, or are there democratic benefits in terms of participation and engagement?
  • If there is such a need, should we consider more codified self-regulation among political professionals or new rules from the Federal Election Commission?

Penn Annenberg and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina (UNC) are co-sponsors of this conference. Professors Joseph Turow from Annenberg and Daniel Kreiss of UNC are organizers of a conference that will examine political data mining from three perspectives – the professionals who run political campaigns, the journalists who cover the campaigns and academics who are trying to make sense of it all.   Here are the panelists for the conference, in addition to Profs. Kreiss and Turow. (NOTE: A single * indicates the individual was affiliated with the Obama campaign; a double ** indicates the individual was affiliated with the Romney campaign.)

  • Lois Beckett, reporter at ProPublica
  • Lillie Coney, Associate Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Michael Cornfield, Acting Director of the Political Management Program, George Washington University
  • Carol Davidsen*, CEO, INC  (a socially integrated marketplace for used goods)
  • Colin Delany, Founder of
  • Michael X. Delli Carpini, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication
  • Alex Gage**, CEO and Founder of TargetPoint Consulting
  • Rayid Ghani*, Research Director, Computation institute at the University of Chicago
  • Ethan Hersh, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University
  • Kate Kaye, reporter for Advertising Age
  • Jordan Lieberman, President of Campaign Grid
  • Matt Lira**, Deputy Executive Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee
  • Alex Lundry**, Vice President and Director of Research at TargetPoint Consulting
  • Brent McGoldrick, FTI Consulting’s Strategic Communications
  • Rachel Nyswander Thomas, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Direct Marketing Association
  • Peter Pasi, Vice President of Collective Political
  • Ethan Roeder*, Executive Director of the News Organizing Institute
  • Micah L. Sifry, co-founder and editorial director of Personal Democracy Media.
  • Peter Swire, Professor of Law at the Ohio State University
  • Zeynep Tufekci, a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University
  • Felix Wu, Associate Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
  • Mike Zaneis, Senior Vice President for the Interactive Advertising Bureau

You can come to the conference; register at the conference web site ( and follow its Twitter feed at #datapolitics. Professors Turow and Kreiss, as well as some of the panelists, will be available for interviews. 

Media Contact: Julie Sloane,, 215-746-1798