Last month, a number of news outlets wrote about a startup called Quorum. Winner of the 2014 Harvard Innovation Challenge's McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in Social Enterprise, Quorum has amazing potential to create new ways for legislators to easily use data to understand their constituencies and track legislation—literally data for policymaking. Quorum even pulls data from the American Community Survey, which James Treat of the Census Bureau wrote about for this blog a few years back.
TechCrunch touts Quorum as a replacement for the hordes of summer Hill interns, while the Washington Post likens it to Moneyball for K Street.
Danny Crichton at TechCrunch writes:
The challenges are numerous in this space. "Figuring out who you should talk to is a really tough process," Jonathan Marks, one co-founder of Quorum, explained. "This is a problem that a lot of our clients have, [since] there are tens of thousands of relationships in DC." The challenge is magnified since those relationships change so often.
Another challenge is simply following legislation. Marks gave the example of a non-profit firm that wanted to develop a scorecard with grades for each congressmen on several key votes (a common strategy these days in Washington advocacy). One firm had "three people spending 1.5 weeks to tabulate all the data." An opposition research firm went through "6000 votes on abortion” to tabulate every single congressman's legislative history. This was all done manually (i.e. with an army of interns).
But Quorum is not the first product of its kind. Bloomberg and CQ have long dominated with products targeted at this audience. But this is becoming a competitive space for entrepreneurs. Catherine Ho at the Washington Post explains:
Since 2010, at least four companies, ranging from start-ups to billion-dollar public corporations, have introduced new ways to sell data-based political and competitive intelligence that offers insight into the policymaking process."
Other companies are emerging in the space with some success. For others, it’s too soon to tell.
Popvox, founded in 2010, is an online platform that collects correspondence between constituents and their representatives on bills, organizes the data by state, and packages the information in charts and maps so lawmakers can easily spot where voters stand on a proposed bill. An early win was when nearly 12,000 people nationwide used the platform to oppose a proposal to allow robo-calls to cellphones — the bill was withdrawn by its sponsors.
Popvox does not disclose its revenue, but co-founder Marci Harris said the platform has more than 400,000 users across every congressional district and has delivered more than 4 million constituent positions to Congress.
FiscalNote, which uses data-mining software and artificial intelligence to predict the outcome of legislation and regulations, has pulled in $19.4 million in capital since its 2013 start from big-name investors including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and the Winklevoss twins. The company says it achieves 94 percent accuracy. And Ipsos, the publicly traded market research and polling company, is amping up efforts to sell polling data to lobby firms.
For an academic's take on the trend toward data in politics and camapigning, UNC assistant professor Daniel Kreiss published a great piece for the Stanford Law Review in 2012 titled "Yes We Can (Profile You)," which lays out the ways in which political campaigns employ sophisticated data analysis techniques to measure and target voters.
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