A decade ago, Barack Obama revolutionized political campaigning by successfully leveraging the power of social media to turn supporters into donors, organizers, and voters. Today, another technology stands to have an equally transformative impact on political operations: artificial intelligence (AI). Campaigns that can capitalize on the power of AI stand to gain a competitive edge not only during the upcoming midterms but in the 2020 elections and beyond.
Staying Ahead of the Story in a Time of Media Overload
The presidential election of 2004 marked the entry of a new term into the political lexicon: “swiftboating.” Many observers of U.S. politics believe that the swift-boat attacks on the war record of candidate John Kerry were the decisive factor in the outcome of the election. For all subsequent campaigns, the lesson of 2004 was crystal clear: All attacks must be rapidly detected and promptly answered.
Indeed, political experts now recognize that speed is the critical factor required to get out ahead of a story and take control of the message. Without quick responses, campaigns can be forced into a defensive posture, robbing them of the capability to take the initiative and shape the narrative.
However, in the age of media proliferation—with an ever-growing variety of outlets and media types blaring out news and views on a 24/7 basis—the process of monitoring and analyzing political discourse has become exponentially more complex and arduous. Nowadays, it’s simply too slow, inefficient and time-consuming to track the cacophony of political data by employing traditional methods.
Gartner estimates that 80 percent of all data worldwide is unstructured, i.e., it cannot be easily and efficiently searched, accessed and utilized using database software. A total of 90 percent of global data has been created in just the last two years. From 2013 through 2020, the amount of digital data is projected to increase by a factor of 10. This deluge of unstructured data is driven in large part by the explosion of video and audio content.
Political operations are facing an epic struggle to review new clips that pile up daily as well as the vast volumes of legacy files they have compiled over the years. It’s simply impractical for campaign staffers to review thousands of hours of such content—and it’s utterly impossible to transform manually-gathered information into actionable insights quickly enough to keep pace with today’s high-velocity news cycle.
AI Enters the Political Fray
AI provides a way to take the challenge of data overload and turn it into an invaluable asset. New cognitive engine technologies can rapidly transcribe huge volumes of native audio and video files so they can be searched by phrases or keyword. These engines can also perform facial, object and optical character recognition, to provide new levels of insight.
AI technologies can compress lengthy review and analysis times from days or even weeks down to a matter of minutes, giving campaigns the rapid insights they need to detect and address issues as they arise. Such engines also relieve staffers from time-consuming tracking responsibilities, allowing them to focus on more valuable work that requires the human touch.
To quickly capitalize on the advantages delivered by these cognitive engines, organizations need to employ AI services or platforms. Instead of taking extensive time to select the best and most appropriate engines from multiple suppliers, users can use AI platforms that can automatically find the best algorithm or algorithms for the task at hand.
Such platforms can also become more efficient over time as they gain knowledge. With experience, platforms become more adept at identifying critical information, such as names, faces and keywords, allowing them to transcribe audio or process video with greater accuracy.
Keeping Up with Talk Radio
In 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump underwent a grueling on-air grilling from a Wisconsin radio talk show host whose conservative viewpoint ostensibly would have been friendly to Trump. The event highlighted the continued importance of talk radio in American politics, as well as the critical need to build awareness of sentiment on local radio stations.
In an age of social media, radio may seem to be a relic of an ancient era. However, the thousands of radio stations across the United States still command a sizeable and loyal audience, with the medium reaching the largest number of Americans of any form of electronic entertainment as of 2015, according to Nielsen. With local hosts discussing political issues and taking calls from voters, these stations serve as a window into the mindset of residents of various US states, counties, and legislative districts.
Instead of spending countless hours hunting for audio clips from these radio stations, political campaigns can leverage AI engines to track broadcasts and provide alerts. If a talk radio host mentions a relevant issue or the name of a candidate, these engines can send a notice to a campaign within minutes. For example, Veritone offers a proprietary radio tracking system that allows campaigns to create Watchlists of names, subjects, and stations to ensure they know what’s happening nearly in real time.
Armed with such information, campaigns also can prepare candidates and spokespeople for interviews on local radio. This information can even allow candidates to steer clear of potentially hostile interviewers, avoiding the kind of embarrassment the Trump campaign encountered in Wisconsin.
Flipping the Transcripts
Another task that takes far too much time and effort for political campaigns is editing transcripts and video files to ensure they match each other. AI can simplify and streamline this drudgery as well. Veritone offers a platform that allows campaigns to save time, money and energy by editing the transcript and the video clips simultaneously.
Using the platform, staff members can save time by selecting just the specific few sentences that they need to share or capture. Veritone then syncs that information immediately. This is a game-changing advance, taking the endless hours of video content owned by political operations and turning it into useful and manageable insights.
The More Data the Better
For today’s campaigns, the massive amount of media that must be tracked may appear to be an insurmountable obstacle—an ever-rising mountain of information that they have to scale each and every day.
However, when AI enters the equation, this enormous amount of information starts to look quite different. With AI, the more information that is ingested and processed, the better it works. With each keyword they search, each sentence they transcribe and each face they identify, AI cognitive engines incrementally improve their accuracy and predictive value.
Consequently, instead of narrowing down the number of outlets they monitor to keep media tracking efforts manageable, campaigns can focus on increasing and broadening their number of sources, obtaining the broadest possible perspective on the political landscape.
Whether it’s the 2018 midterms, the 2020 presidential election, or any other race, AI is becoming an essential tool for political organizations to stay informed, respond rapidly and keep their finger on the political pulse of the nation. Campaigns that can quickly harness the power of AI by using service and platform offerings stand to attain new levels of speed and efficiency that will make the difference between a victory address and a consolation speech come Election Day.
Kristy McKnight is the general manager for Veritone Politics. She is a passionate product strategy executive who merges vision, tactics, and resources while remaining singularly focused on delighting customers.