With the U.S.-presidential election 2016 still in mind data-driven campaigning (DDC), its methods and threats were one of the most discussed topics during the German federal election 2017. Election campaigns have always used voter data and targeting methods to improve the efficiency of how campaigns with limited resources are run and how they communicate with voters. Its sophistication changed significantly with technological developments and campaigns´ growing possibilities of using algorithms and voter data to gain knowledge about and identify their most likely voters and serve up personalized messages through different communication channels.
With few exceptions most of scientific research on DDC discusses U.S.-presidential campaigns. However, campaign practices and strategies are deeply rooted to their contextual environments and need to bemodified and implemented taking the national context of political competition into account. Therefore, I will discuss the following questions against the backdrop of the German social, legal and electoral context: (1) What importance do the CDU and SPD attribute to the use of data for targeting voters in contemporary campaigns? What are main strategic and macro-social reasons behind this? (2) What is the state of DDC in Germany? What strategies are being used to target voters and what data is gathered? and (3) What are restrictions for DDC in Germany?
I will discuss the theoretical, historical and legal principles of DDC in Germany. Drawing on that, the questions raised will be addressed with findings from an analysis of sixteen in-depth expert interviews with CDU´s and SPD´s head strategists, mobilization and data experts. Due to budgetary, legal restraints, party structures and individual decisions or knowledge, DDC efforts during the federal election 2017 were less precise and sophisticated than journalistic coverage implied. I will conclude with a normative discussion of DDC.