Travis Ridout is a political scientist who studies political advertising in the United States, and he spent the first six months of 2023 in Australia as a Fulbright scholar. He interviewed campaign staff and political consultants about their use of various campaign techniques in state and federal elections.

A key reason Barack Obama won the 2012 US presidential election was his campaign’s use of “big data” to target specific voters. His team created multiple versions of ads aimed at niche audiences, taking care to test every message. Naturally, some have worried about the potential power of these data-driven campaign techniques to manipulate voters. But have these methods taken over election campaigns in Australia?

In short, not really. Australian campaigns typically rely on much less data-intensive techniques due to a lack of resources, doubts about the data, and ethical and philosophical concerns about the approach.

One reason is that [Australian] campaigns do not have unlimited money and staff resources. At the end of the day, hiring a data scientist or creative staff to design ads for multiple audiences is a luxury most campaigns cannot afford. In contrast, more than US$6.6 billion (A$10.2 billion) was spent on the 2020 presidential election.

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