Is Using Data Science to Influence Election Results Cheating? A Deep Dive into Ethics and Practice
By Saeed Mirshekari

May 28, 2024

Is Using Data Science to Influence Election Results Cheating?

In today’s digital age, data science has become a pivotal tool in many industries, including politics. The use of data science to influence election results has sparked a significant debate. While some argue it enhances democratic processes by making campaigns more efficient and targeted, others view it as a manipulative practice that undermines electoral integrity. This blog will explore whether using data science to influence election results constitutes cheating, drawing on historical examples and insights from data science mentors. We will also discuss the importance of data science mentorship, especially for those considering a career change to data science at 40.

The Role of Data Science in Political Campaigns

Data science involves using techniques like statistical analysis, machine learning, and predictive modeling to analyze and interpret complex datasets. In political campaigns, data science is used to understand voter behavior, segment electorates, and optimize campaign strategies.

Historical Examples

  1. Obama's 2008 and 2012 Campaigns: Barack Obama's campaigns were trailblazers in leveraging data science. His team used data analytics to identify potential voters, understand their concerns, and tailor messages accordingly. This data-driven approach significantly boosted voter engagement and turnout, contributing to his electoral success.

  2. Trump's 2016 Campaign: Donald Trump's 2016 campaign utilized data science extensively, particularly through the controversial firm Cambridge Analytica. The campaign gathered vast amounts of data from social media to create detailed voter profiles and target them with personalized messages. This micro-targeting strategy played a crucial role in his unexpected victory.

  3. Biden's 2020 Campaign: Joe Biden's 2020 campaign leveraged data science to adapt to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. By analyzing voter behavior and preferences, the campaign effectively transitioned to digital platforms, ensuring broad outreach and engagement despite restrictions on traditional campaigning.

Is It Cheating?

Determining whether using data science to influence election results is cheating depends on how the data is obtained and used. Here are key considerations:

Ethical Data Use

When data is collected with consent and used transparently to engage voters, it enhances democratic participation. For example, targeting messages based on public voter registration data or polling information is generally considered ethical.

Questions to Ask a Data Scientist Mentor
  1. What are the ethical considerations in using data for political campaigns?
  2. How do you ensure data privacy and consent in your work?
  3. Can you provide examples of ethical data use in campaigns?
  4. What measures do you take to avoid data manipulation?
  5. How do you stay informed about ethical standards in data science?

Manipulative Practices

Concerns arise when data is collected or used in deceptive or manipulative ways. The Cambridge Analytica scandal involved harvesting data from millions of Facebook users without their knowledge and using it to influence their voting behavior. Such practices can be seen as cheating because they violate privacy and manipulate individuals without their informed consent.

The Importance of Data Science Mentorship

Mentorship in data science is crucial for navigating the field’s complexities and ethical challenges. A data science mentor can provide guidance on best practices, ethical considerations, and career development.

Data Science Mentorship Programs

Many data science mentorship programs are available, catering to those entering the field, including mid-career professionals. These programs often include structured learning, practical projects, and one-on-one mentoring.

Questions to Ask a Data Analyst Mentor
  1. How did you transition into data science, and what challenges did you face?
  2. What resources or courses do you recommend for beginners?
  3. How can I leverage my previous work experience in data analysis roles?
  4. What are the typical data analyst jobs and their requirements?
  5. What is the expected data analyst salary range for someone starting at 40?

Career Change to Data Science at 40

Changing careers to data science at 40 is entirely feasible with the right approach and support. Many mid-career professionals find that their previous experience provides valuable skills that are transferable to data science.

Steps to Transition

  1. Leverage Existing Skills: Skills from previous careers, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical abilities, are transferable to data science.

  2. Seek Out Free Data Science Mentorship: Numerous programs and platforms offer free mentorship opportunities, providing guidance and support without financial burden.

  3. Enroll in a Data Science Mentorship Program: Structured programs often include coursework, practical projects, and one-on-one mentoring, offering a comprehensive path to transition into data science.

  4. Network with Data Science Mentors: Building a network of mentors can provide ongoing support, job leads, and professional advice.

Data Science Jobs and Salaries

The demand for data scientists and analysts continues to grow across various sectors, including politics. Understanding the job landscape and potential earnings is crucial for those entering the field.

Data Scientist Jobs

Data scientists analyze large datasets, build predictive models, and derive actionable insights. In the political sphere, they might work for campaign teams, polling organizations, or consulting firms.

Data Scientist Salary

Salaries for data scientists vary based on experience, location, and industry. The average data scientist salary in the U.S. ranges from $90,000 to $150,000 annually, with potential for higher earnings in senior roles or specialized sectors like politics.

Data Analyst Jobs

Data analysts interpret data and provide reports that help organizations make informed decisions. In election campaigns, their work might involve voter data analysis, trend identification, and performance tracking.

Data Analyst Salary

The average data analyst salary in the U.S. is typically lower than that of data scientists, ranging from $60,000 to $90,000 annually. However, experience and specialized skills can significantly impact earning potential.

How to Find a Data Science Mentor

Finding the right mentor can be transformative for aspiring data scientists. Here are some tips on how to find a data science mentor:

  1. Join Professional Organizations: Groups like the Data Science Association or local meetups can connect you with experienced professionals.

  2. Attend Conferences and Workshops: Events are excellent opportunities to meet potential mentors and network with peers.

  3. Online Platforms: Websites like LinkedIn, DataCamp, and Kaggle have communities where you can seek out mentors.

  4. University Alumni Networks: If you have a degree in a related field, leverage your alumni network to find mentors.


Using data science to influence election results is a complex and nuanced issue. While data-driven strategies can enhance democratic processes by making campaigns more targeted and efficient, they can also raise ethical concerns when data is used manipulatively. The key lies in how data is obtained and used, with transparency and consent being critical factors.

Data science mentorship plays a crucial role in guiding professionals through these ethical challenges. For those considering a career change to data science at 40, mentorship provides invaluable support and guidance, helping them leverage their existing skills and navigate the transition effectively.

Ultimately, the use of data science in political campaigns reflects broader trends in how data is shaping our world. As we move forward, the principles of ethical data use will be essential in ensuring that these powerful tools are used to enhance, rather than undermine, democratic processes.

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About O'Fallon Labs

In O'Fallon Labs we help recent graduates and professionals to get started and thrive in their Data Science careers via 1:1 mentoring and more.


Saeed Mirshekari

Saeed is currently a Director of Data Science in Mastercard and the Founder & Director of OFallon Labs LLC. He is a former research scholar at LIGO team (Physics Nobel Prize of 2017).

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