The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) hosted its second weekly Fall 2023 discussion group of the “How Data Drives Politics” series on Oct. 2.
The discussion group, one of six semester-long discussion groups GU Politics offers that are led by seasoned professionals from the public and private sectors, focuses on statistics and how they influence the U.S. political sphere. “How Data Drives Politics” is hosted by Brenda Gianiny, a polling expert and one of the Fall 2023 GU Politics fellows.
Gianiny covered political advertisement and the usage of statistics to bolster a campaign’s success at the Oct. 2 meeting. Gianiny said that candidates utilize three different methods of advertising during campaigns: positive advertising to boost themselves, negative advertising to show why other candidates are unqualified and contrast advertising to show why one candidate is significantly different from another. When creating advertisements, candidates use statistics as a means of qualifying themselves or deeming an opponent unqualified for a position.
According to Gianiny, statistics allow the voters’ voices to be heard, making data fundamental to running a successful campaign.
“As the pollster or data scientist, you’re the voice of the voter at the table. So I think it’s the strongest position in politics,” Gianiny told The Hoya. “If you want a career in data, you can be so impactful in campaigns. Data really is driving politics like it never has before.”
Will Severn (CAS ’27), who attended the meeting, said that Gianiny’s discussions are generally important to see how politicians find the middle ground between using statistics and valuing individual people.
“This strikes a good balance between being data-centered and people-centered. If you want to go all in on data, then people just become a statistic and you can’t value them,” Severn told The Hoya. “But if you go all in on people and focus solely on the human element, you’re missing these big insights that could further your campaign.”
Cat McGuire (SFS ’26), who also attended the seminar, said that the discussion has been informative in showing people the impacts of statistics on candidacy and public perception of campaigns.
“A lot of us are really undereducated about the research and analysis that goes into running our political system and having successful candidacies,” McGuire told The Hoya. “It is a lot more of a numbers game than people tend to realize, in this politically polarized environment.”
McGuire said she feels that the seminar is an expression of GU Politics’ mission to foster more open discussion among students and their peers.
“It’s been really awesome to have a bipartisan group of people and see a wide range of opinions,” McGuire said. “Brenda is really open about being a Republican pollster.”
Gianiny agreed that the seminar offers a myriad of views and perspectives with the common goal of learning from each other.
“I think everybody is so respectful. I definitely have had students of different ideologies in my groups and they’ve been very respectful of me, one of the Republicans on campus,” Gianiny said. “There’s also such a willingness to learn, from different cultures, how politics are done in other countries. I think there’s really an appetite for that, everyone’s been really respectful in wanting to learn and listening to different opinions.”
According to Severn, GU Politics’ weekly discussion groups are the best place for learning about political processes while diversifying perspectives.
“I think the biggest misconception is that data has to be dehumanizing. In many ways, it actually has the ability to bring more people into the policymaking process,” Severn said. “If people should know anything about these GU Politics discussions, it’s that they’re a super opening, welcoming and inclusive space.”