There is at least one certainty where Cambridge Analytica is concerned. If forty thousand people scattered across Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had changed their minds about Donald Trump before 8 November 2016, and cast their votes instead for Hillary Clinton, this small London-based political consultancy would not now be the subject of breathless headlines and Downing Street statements. Cambridge Analytica could have harvested, breached, brain-washed and honey-trapped to their evil hearts’ content, but if Clinton had won, it wouldn’t be a story.
The villains of the piece would no doubt agree with this assessment, but not for very plausible reasons. The exposé conducted by Channel 4 News, with the support of the Observer and the New York Times, captured the now suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, bragging to someone he believed was a potential client that he’d met Trump ‘many times’ and master-minded the entire Trump campaign strategy. Nix implies that those forty thousand votes were scientifically wrested from Hillary and delivered to Trump thanks to micro-targeted advertising and some especially persuasive messaging. ‘Our data informed all the strategy,’ Nix says, with the swagger of an estate agent reporting that demand for period features is red-hot right now.