Interesting take from Jeffrey Frank, in the New Yorker — “Does the G.O.P. Need a New Machine?”:
… Reinhold Richard (Reince) Priebus, the leader of the Republican National Committee since early 2011, is not exactly a boss… not if being a boss means being able to exert control over your party. Priebus can seem like the dad in an old-time situation comedy, the ineffectual, slightly comic figure who accidentally switches shopping lists with a shady neighbor. Priebus aside, the Republican Party may nonetheless have acquired a new sort of boss, or perhaps anti-boss—Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly, who is politically alert, unflinching, and, to judge from the evidence of recent years, attuned to reality. That’s what so annoyed the onetime “mastermind” Karl Rove when, on the night of the 2012 election, he refused to accept the arithmetic of the decisive Ohio vote. Kelly tried to help him with the math, and their curious dialogue continued two days later, when Rove insisted several times that Obama’s victory wasn’t all that impressive and Kelly said, “You keep saying that, but he won, Karl, he won … and that’s what the Republicans care about, what the Democrats care about.”…
Today’s Republican Party bosses, whoever they are, are no match for someone like the self-financed Trump, who, if nothing else, has shown that the torrents of money unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, in 2010, may not be the final word on the limits of reckless political free speech. Rather, the beginning of the slow-motion end for Trump, if indeed it is the end, won’t have come from a private conversation among city bosses or a shove from Reince Priebus—or from the other Republican candidates, who are either ineffectual or have shied away. It may take years to understand what it means to give a cable anchor the power, and authority, to try to push a leading candidate off the bus. Until then, though, if no one else is able to, “Boss” Kelly and the Fox machine may be left to take charge.
On the other hand, even Megyn Kelly/Faux News may be impotent against Big Data. Politico gave “senior research psychologist” Robert Epstein a platform to warn us all “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election“:
America’s next president could be eased into office not just by TV ads or speeches, but by Google’s secret decisions, and no one—except for me and perhaps a few other obscure researchers—would know how this was accomplished.
Research I have been directing in recent years suggests that Google, Inc., has amassed far more power to control elections—indeed, to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs—than any company in history has ever had. Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson.
Given that many elections are won by small margins, this gives Google the power, right now, to flip upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide. In the United States, half of our presidential elections have been won by margins under 7.6 percent, and the 2012 election was won by a margin of only 3.9 percent—well within Google’s control…
What we call in our research the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) turns out to be one of the largest behavioral effects ever discovered. Our comprehensive new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), includes the results of five experiments we conducted with more than 4,500 participants in two countries. Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.
According to Google Trends, at this writing Donald Trump is currently trouncing all other candidates in search activity in 47 of 50 states. Could this activity push him higher in search rankings, and could higher rankings in turn bring him more support? Most definitely—depending, that is, on how Google employees choose to adjust numeric weightings in the search algorithm. Google acknowledges adjusting the algorithm 600 times a year, but the process is secret, so what effect Mr. Trump’s success will have on how he shows up in Google searches is presumably out of his hands…
This has a strong flavor of clickbait, but I’d be interested in seeing what more technologically sophisticated commentors think of the argument.