Election Day is Tuesday, November 8 in the United States. Whether you’ve been volunteering leading up to the midterms or are planning to proudly wear your “I Voted” sticker, getting involved with an election cycle is invigorating.
Some people turn their passion for politics into a career. In fact, there are lots of ways that people who understand data science can apply their technical skills to elections. Data science is all about turning data into information of value. Using code, we can take huge amounts of data and use it to answer questions, predict possible outcomes, understand trends, and visualize relationships and patterns.
From polls and surveys to votes and demographics, the U.S. electoral system is chock-full of data that political candidates and elected officials use to make informed decisions. Curious what types of political careers you can have in data science? Here’s an overview of the data science careers you can have in politics, plus the skills you need to get hired. Be sure to check out our full catalog of data science courses and paths to start learning these impactful (and marketable) skills.
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Campaign Data Analyst
In recent years, it’s become common for political campaigns to hire teams of Data Analysts who can translate data into actionable plans that help guide a campaign. For example, a Data Analyst for a political campaign might look at demographic data to pinpoint areas where a candidate should extend outreach and mobilize voters. Or, they might use data to guide a candidate’s messaging strategy in advertisements and fundraising campaigns.
During the 2020 U.S. presidential election, for example, Joe Biden’s Chief Analytics Officer Becca Siegel ran a team of 150 Data Analysts leading up to the election, and spent election night watching state votes roll in and explaining what it meant for Biden’s chances of winning.
Rayid Ghani, Chief Data Scientist of President Obama’s 2012 election campaign, gave this advice for aspiring data professionals: “In addition to getting the technical skills in statistics, machine learning, and computer programming, take some classes in the social sciences, learn how to define problems, and communicate with people about the solution you’re developing as well as its impact,” he told the American Statistical Association.
Broadly speaking, the role of a Political Scientist is to research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, and political trends, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A Political Scientist will use statistical analysis to gather and interpret survey data on voters, research the effects of policies on people, or come up with solutions to political problems, for example.
R and Python are a couple popular programming languages that are used for statistical analysis. In Learn Statistics with R, you’ll grasp some fundamental statistics concepts and understand how to use the popular programming language.
If you already know Python, you can also check out Learn Statistics with NumPy, where you’ll use a Python module to perform numerical operations on large quantities of data. One of the portfolio projects in this course will have you reviewing survey results from a fictional election using binomial distributions to see how the responses compare to actual election results. (If “binomial distributions” sounds like a foreign language, don’t worry — you’ll learn what that means in the course.)
A Data Journalist is a Reporter who uses analytical and coding skills to tell stories about current events and news. Using code, Data Journalists can examine structured data and find nuanced trends and observations that might be missed in traditional news coverage and interviews. From tracking election returns in real time to analyzing voter polls, Data Journalists play a crucial role in a news organization’s political coverage.
The website FiveThirtyEight, for example, is a widely-read publication that’s known for its data-driven election and sports forecasting. The New York Times has a dedicated Elections Data Analytics team made up of Data Journalists and programmers who cover election cycles. (You might remember the infamous “needle” visualization that the Times introduced during the 2016 Presidential election to illustrate election night forecasts — that’s data journalism in action!)
Data Journalists need strong writing skills, plus programming knowledge. R is commonly used by Data Journalists, because they can use it to create compelling data visualizations that help to tell a story and communicate findings to readers. Python, with its English-like syntax and versatility, is another popular programming language used by journalists.
Get started with data science
Inspired to learn more about data science? Codecademy has lots of data science courses for all levels.
A great place to start your coding journey is with our free course Getting Started with Python for Data Science. There’s also our Data Science Foundations skill path, and in the no-code course Principles of Data Literacy, you’ll learn how to analyze data confidently and responsibly. Or you can jump in with Analyze Data with Python to learn the popular programming language used for data analytics. (If you’re on the fence or don’t know whether data science is right for you, take our programming personality quiz.)
If you’re preparing for any of these careers in data science, you might want to try our career path Data Scientist: Analytics Specialist. You’ll get comfortable “talking” to databases and creating visualizations that drive big picture decision-making, plus work on portfolio-grade projects that you can use to apply for jobs. The beginner-friendly career path Data Scientist: Machine Learning Specialist will teach you all the skills you need to draw predictions from data.
Here are some additional ways you can combine your interests in data science and politics for fun or a new career:
- Explore datasets: The MIT Election Data and Science Lab has lots of free datasets related to past U.S. elections that you can download and examine.
- Analyze State of the Union Addresses: Apply a machine learning technique called natural language processing that uses artificial intelligence to comb the text of past presidents’ State of the Union Addresses. You can also perform sentiment analysis to detect positive or negative sentiment in the speeches.
- Become a volunteer: Data Scientists and Engineers can apply to be a volunteer for The Center for New Data, a non-profit that uses data science to measure and address voter suppression.
- Browse job boards: Want a job in tech that also helps the greater good? The job board Tech Jobs for Good allows you to search for jobs at mission-driven organizations. You can easily filter jobs by impact area, for example, public service and civic engagement.
For information about how to vote, head to vote.org.