- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The birth of Behavioural Politics? (And Big Data has gone to the doctor for a check up).

What is happening in politics is the equivalent of what has happened to Economics years ago. Economics was based on the premise of rationality. Given choices, people will ‘maximise their utility’, that is, will behave as what they are, rational. Little problem was that a tsunami of irrational decisions rules the world. But there was not irrationality built in neoclassical economics. Behavioural Economics was born, got Nobel Prizes, lots of books and a shift of emphasis towards, for example, ‘nudging’ people to some sort of behaviours (e.g. Behavioural Insights units in UK and Obama admin, amongst others)

I think we are seeing the birth of Behavioural Politics. You can’t call Trump voters or Brexit voters ‘irrational’. They were incredibly rational, but not as the political machinery had understood rationality. Had politicians, campaign managers and pollsters understood ‘agency’, things may have gone in a different way. Oh, I forgot, they also need to understand Groupthink. I am talking about ‘agency’ in tomorrow’s Daily Thought: ‘Agency’ won the US election. Leaders of all sorts take note. Be there.

I can see traditional political scientists smiling: come on, politics has always been behavioural! Which is the same argument as neoclassic economists would have used. Well, if so, you’d better go back to college, did you not get the memo about new books?

Another casualty of the recent Black Swans/tsunamis is Big Data, which has romanced, seduced and married particularly US politics for a long time. In the last Obama campaign, I am told that there were in some cases ‘500 points of data’ per voter. I assume that these included their preference for shoe colours and the type of sauce they bought for barbeques. In other words, the degree of predictability was sold as extraordinary, as was the budget for this. I have no reason to believe that this time there was no Big Data available to either side. But, aha, look at the Black Swan. What happened to all those Big-Data based predictions?. Did anybody pick up the Small Data of all those ‘invisible people’ coming from the woods?

I want leaders to be experts in Small Data: the seeing and feeling, the perceptions and insights, the said and above all the unsaid. Whether customers, or employees, or shareholders, we lead with Small Data insights, and manage with a sort-of-Big-Data machinery. Market research is here to stay but will never beat the social anthropologist that (I am nagging about all the time), leaders must be.