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April 11, 2012

Good News: Political Campaigns Now Know More About You Than Your Pastor

Microtargeting and the collection of reams of information about specific individual voters is now the name of the game, and the game is well in progress.

Matthew Dowd brought data to Karl Rove in 2004, informing him that the "True Independent," really up-for-grabs vote was not 24%, as long imagined, but only 7%. Karl Rove was shocked, and adapted -- rather than chase independents, he would find the Republicans in Democratic areas and try to turn them, specifically, out. (As opposed to the whole region.)

He turned to microtargeting to find these voters. But the science of data collection and guessing someone's partisan leanings has advanced greatly since that first primitive (and yet very successful) effort.

"But we were like kids playing with Play-doh," said Gage, who directs TargetPoint Consulting and was Mitt Romney's 2008 lead microtargeter, in a recent interview. "We thought we were pretty smart -- but today? It's mind-boggling. Someone handed us a magnifying glass and we said, 'Oh, We can see some people.' Then someone said, 'Try a microscope.' And now we're using electronic microscopes."

Inside microtargeting offices in Washington and across the nation, individual voters are today coming through in HDTV clarity -- every single digitally-active American consumer, which is 91 percent of us, according to Pew Internet research. Political strategists buy consumer information from data brokers, mash it up with voter records and online behavior, then run the seemingly-mundane minutiae of modern life -- most-visited websites, which soda's in the fridge -- through complicated algorithms and: pow! They know with "amazing" accuracy not only if, but why, someone supports Barack Obama or Romney, says Willie Desmond of Strategic Telemetry, which works for the Obama reelection campaign.

Entertaining and baffling discoveries abound. For example: Soda seems to count a great deal. Diet Dr. Pepper evidently indicates a Republican who votes, while apathetic Democrats drink 7up, according to National Media Research Planning & Placement. Beer, too, matters. Relatively uninterested Republicans go for Busch Light.

Meanwhile, Obama has an even bigger project called Narwhal doing even more.

This year, however, as part of a project code-named Narwhal, Obama’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about contraception to send it only to women with whom canvassers have personally discussed reproductive views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Obama’s views on the issue.

Narwhal found a liberal young woman in a conservative area of Ohio and sent her an email talking up the "War on Women" and such.

It was a message that sat well with the young Ohioan who received it. She was single, liberal, sensitive to medical costs—but she had never told the campaign any of those things, and the one piece of information she had provided (her ZIP code) could easily mark her as the type of traditionalist Midwestern woman who would recoil at efforts to liberalize access to birth control. Indeed, she found it hard to believe that many other residents of her ZIP code would look as favorably upon a rallying cry to defend Planned Parenthood as she did.

That said, the "Fun" thing here is clicking on the first link, and checking out the graphs of what Republicans and Democrats watch, eat, and drink, and seeing how your own preferences align with them.

The graph is kind of more fun than revelatory -- as usual, 90% of this stuff is obvious, as you can guess that younger voters watch MTV (and hence that has a Democratic, low-turnout skew) and older voters watch crime dramas and so on.

But still, it's fun, for the surprises. 30 Rock is a show for high-turnout, very Democratic voters -- okay, that's not a surprise. It skews female, and definitely urbanized white Yuppie.

More surprising is that the most Republican, high-turnout (us) of beers is Michelob Ultra.

Really? Really.

Watching FoxNews makes you fairly Republican and fairly high turnout, but watching Fox Business News makes you an absolute Spartan Warrior for the cause.

The show we really need to advertise on is Undercover Boss. Republicans like it -- but they're low-turnout Republicans.

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posted by Ace at 04:58 PM

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