Isabel Kusche

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline Sociology
Associate Professor, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University and University of Osnabrück

Research project

Big Data Analytics and the Relationship between Politicians and Voters


The project aims at an assessment of possible consequences of big data analytics for the linkage between politicians and voters in the context of election campaigns in European countries. It starts from the assumption that the availability of new techniques for political campaigning, which involve the use of big data, is of fundamental relevance for the future relationship between politicians and voters and that their potential effects need to be assessed for cases other than the United States, on which both scholarly and journalistic attention has focused so far. The results are expected to differ, since existing formal and informal institutions influence both the availability of potentially relevant data and the actual realization of a potential to observe and target voters. The analysis will, therefore, focus on four European countries with diverging institutional settings, namely the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.


In electoral democracies, the secrecy of the ballot shapes and limits the ways in which politicians reach out to voters and try to get their votes. Big Data analytics differ from previous uses of data about voters in terms of their continuous and flexible generation as well as their exhaustive and fine-grained scope. They do not undermine the secrecy of the ballot itself. However, their promise of extensive, individual-level knowledge about correlations between various behaviours and opinions on the one hand and the voting decision, on the other hand, may nevertheless affect the delicate balance between the intransparency of individual vote choice and the efforts of politicians to (appear to) be responsive to voters.


The theoretical framework of the project draws on three notions that have not previously been linked to the research on big data. The notion of political marketing can be used to understand the specificities of big data analytics in relation to both older campaign practices and commercial uses of big data. The notion of clientelism offers a limited, but valuable analogy that helps understanding what difference (assumed) knowledge about individual voting intentions can make for the political process. Finally, the notion of governmentality links the issue to a broad research on the entanglement of knowledge and power.


The methodological framework of the project is based on sociological scenario building, which does not aim to predict the future, but to point out possible future developments. The analysis of legal and political documents (including party websites), newspaper articles and expert interviews pertaining to the four countries will make it possible to display a variety of presents and to assess their interaction with the technological possibilities of big data analytics. This will result in the identification of technological and institutional drivers of change and a limited number of scenarios that depict possible futures of big data use in electoral campaigns in Europe.




Isabel Kusche studied sociology at Dresden University in Germany and the New School of Social Research in New York City. She received her doctorate from Bielefeld University in 2008. Between 2002 and 2015 she held academic positions at various German universities (Jena, Bielefeld, Osnabrück, Kiel). From 2015 to 2018 she was a Marie Curie COFUND Fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark. Her research focuses on political communication and the (re-)production of political power in contemporary democracies, with a special focus on political clientelism and corruption, the impact of digital media on society as well as sociological theory.


Selected publications


‘Constituency Orientation in Irish Politics. Video Statements of the Candidates in the Irish General Election 2016’, Irish Political Studies, vol. 32, no. 3, 2017, pp. 498-520.


‘Reflection on Political Representation: Constituency Service as Topic in Irish and British Parliamentary Debates’, Comparative Sociology, vol. 16, no. 5, 2017, pp. 634-655.


Politischer Klientelismus. Informelle Macht in Griechenland und Irland, Campus, Frankfurt/New York, 2016.


‘Political Clientelism and Democracy. Clientelistic Power and the Internal Differentiation of the Political System’, Acta Sociologica, vol. 57, no. 3, 2014, pp. 207-221.


‘Understanding Political Consulting: A Systems-Theoretical View’, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, vol. 29, no. 4, 2012, pp. 368-376.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Sociology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline Comparative Studies
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH)
discipline History