Election forecasting tool new party favourite

With the municipal election now in the books and a federal vote on the horizon next year, an Ottawa company says its technology is at the forefront of how such campaigns will be fought and won from now on.

ZeroPi CEO Erin Kelly’s firm did the analytics for the Quebec Liberal Party in that province’s most recent election, playing a role in Grit Premier Philippe Couillard’s surprise majority victory. Ms. Kelly also worked in Scotland, where the Yes campaign used ZeroPi’s technology to help make last month’s referendum on separating from Great Britain much closer than most observers expected.

ZeroPi works in the field of reality mining. In Scotland, she says, the company used its technology to monitor social media sites and find out what people were saying before analyzing the likelihood of them voting to separate.

“Reality mining is basically the act of looking at people in their natural environment, so we’re not calling them and saying do you support separation. We are not interacting with them at all,” she says.

Ms. Kelly says her company monitors what people are saying of their own accord and never tries to swing a vote one way or the other. No one should have any concerns about their privacy being violated, she adds.

“We’ve had our technology vetted by privacy lawyers who have ensured us that we are leagues ahead of anything that’s been legislated in Canada or is likely to be legislated, because none of our stuff is personally identifiable … that’s the main thing you want to look after,” she says.

In fact, ZeroPi stands for zero personally identifiable information.

With a federal election slated for October 2015 at the latest, Ms. Kelly said one federal party has already signed on and another one has expressed interest.

So how exactly can the company work for two competing parties in the same election?

“What we would do is have two completely separate teams working on it. They would be using our technology tools, but they would not talk to each other,” Ms. Kelly says.

The parties will give ZeroPi an elector list and the company will put together algorithms for the party – not for candidates or the voter. The algorithms measure the likelihood a party’s supporter would vote for the party, based on a specific issue such as the economy or social programs.

As a hypothetical example, she says, the Conservatives may measure 0.8 on the economy but only 0.2 on social programs.

“Even if you come out and say, ‘We’re going to cancel all social programs,’ that will hurt you, maybe, in twenty percent of cases,” she explains.

Ms. Kelly says the prospect of working with two parties is very exciting because it would help the company refine its model even more.

ZeroPi was created earlier this year with the merger of Innovitel and Bulzi Canada, a subsidiary of Bulzi Media.

“The reason we came together was so that we could become an analytics powerhouse,” says Ms. Kelly, adding the new firm is doing that by combining some of Innovitel’s solutions with Bulzi’s patented technologies.

ZeroPi currently has 21 staff on Albert Street and 67 employees at Innovitel’s call centre in Montreal. Those staff worked for a number of municipal candidates across the province ahead of the Oct. 27 election.

Ms. Kelly says the call centre connected with voters the “old-fashioned way” by “getting the messages out, making sure people know what the candidates stand for and that kind of thing, seeing how they are going to vote.”

ZeroPi also has customers outside of politics, she adds, noting the company uses its technology to help develop social programs and assist big retailers better understand the needs of their customers.

And while sending consumers targeted ads for, say, furniture while they are furniture shopping may seem a little Orwellian and perhaps a bit creepy, Ms. Kelly says she’s more annoyed by ads for products she will never need.

“I get Viagra ads,” she says as an example. “I don’t know if it’s because my name is gender neutral or something.”