Paul Wood

The Brits behind Trump

Are Cambridge Analytica brilliant scientists or snake-oil salesmen?

It’s the Brits wot won it. That is, the US presidential election was won for Donald Trump with the help of a bunch of British nerds — data scientists from a company called Cambridge Analytica. This was the claim, at least, made by the company in a press release a couple of days after the election. ‘No one saw it coming. The public polls, the experts, and the pundits: just about every-body got it wrong. They were wrong-footed because they didn’t understand who was going to turn out and vote. Except for Cambridge Analytica…’ Frank Luntz, a famous pollster and one of those so embarrassingly mistaken, said: ‘They figured out how to win. There are no longer any experts except Cambridge Analytica.’

Trump, it turns out, was not just a billionaire with a big mouth and a Twitter account. The ‘authentic’ candidate, the roaring id who supposedly disdained traditional campaign pollsters and consultants, had quietly hired this British company in June and paid them millions. Cambridge Analytica — named after the university: branding to appeal to US customers — say they bet on Trump when no one else would. The chief executive, Alexander Nix (Eton; Manchester), told me: ‘The American political market is the most competitive and hostile in the world. A lot of vendors refused to work for Trump because they didn’t believe he had a cat’s chance in hell of winning. Cambridge Analytica did the opposite. We invested in Trump.’

Cambridge Analytica began the long election cycle working for Ted Cruz and then, after he failed, moved to Trump. There are reports that their main investor is the secretive hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer — and that this switch from Cruz to Trump tracked his allegiances. The company won’t comment on who their investors might be. They say it wasn’t connections that saw off the American competition but their unique approach.

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