Geographic information systems (GIS) -- software and hardware that manipulates and analyzes geographical data -- is becoming a more popular tool for hopeful politicians. A decade ago, only a handful of highly trained specialists could create, analyze, and make use of GIS data. Now there are downloadable desktop versions that almost anyone can access.
Two of the more user-friendly versions used for campaigning are ArcGIS and Political Maptitude.
The technology was originally used for redistricting, but its applications have expanded to include campaign strategy. By merging voter lists with census and geographical data, campaign strategists can develop more effective ways to target voters.
Lighter versions of GIS platforms, combined with the increased availability of relevant data, make a powerful tool allowing campaigners to save time, money, and resources. The popularity of mobile devices further facilitates the collection of data in the field by canvassers on neighborhood walkthroughs. State-level or presidential candidates can use Web-based GIS applications to access information from a central location and zero in on a region or precinct. This example from Google shows results from the Nevada caucus.
Candidates running in recently redistricted areas can also use GIS tools to understand their new district and boundaries. With updated data, they can build a strategy that works to their advantage. In the campaign outreach phase, canvassers carrying smartphones or tablets can add and update data for the centralized campaign database on the fly. They can also track and be tracked via GPS as they place signs, hand out campaign materials, and get feedback from voters. Back at campaign headquarters, strategists can track all this progress and adjust their actions for optimal efficiency.
And as updated data accumulates, a larger picture of the campaign forms. A candidate’s appeal to voters and predictions about the election can be made while there is still time to influence voters’ opinions. The process also creates richer, more useful data for future campaigns.
But winning elections isn’t the only way politicians can leverage this technology. Once elected, they can use it to continue to serve their constituency. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls geospatial technology (which includes GIS) a “High Growth Industry.” This market is growing 35 percent a year, and its commercial sector is growing 100 percent a year, the bureau says.
GIS applications are so versatile and flexible that they can be used with great success for planning and determining the wisest use of resources. The technology is already used widely for public safety, property assessment, environmental management, economic development, and other data-related tasks in government and industry. FEMA uses it to determine flood risks. In Nebraska, it’s used to ensure ample supply of flu vaccines. There are dozens of other case studies on the Environmental Systems Research Institute Website describing innovative uses of GIS technology.
As this information proves valuable to elected officials, they will undoubtedly acknowledge and encourage the use of GIS technology in government. This is sure to create a more efficient public sector.