Politicians Mine Commercial Databases In Get Out The Vote Effort

from the what-they-know-about-you dept

It used to be that people were worried about all the data that the government collected on them, and would refer to things like "Big Brother." However, more recently, with the rise of huge database companies and serious data collection and data mining efforts in the private sector, people have begun to realize that it's really the corporations that are keeping the closest tabs on you. However, that doesn't mean politicians can't use that data themselves. The Associated Press is running an article about the level of sophistication being used behind the scenes by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign. Rather than more general statistics, they've taken a page out of just about any large company's marketing textbook and have purchased access to all sorts of demographic data from things like what you drink to what you drive to what you read -- on the assumption that they can then use this data to better target people more likely to vote for the governor's re-election in their "get out the vote" effort. The opposing campaign claims that this "microtargeting" is simply being used to "manipulate people" while giving different messages to different people. However, it's not clear why that's so bad, if the targeted messages are actually relevant. It does seem a little creepy to find out the level to which they can segment voters, but it's really no different than what companies do these days. Of course, for those who are still uncomfortable about all of this, perhaps it'll make you feel more comfortable to know that much of the data these firms have is often wrong.

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  • identicon
    the governator, 26 Oct 2006 @ 6:46am


    so a senator gets info from wal-mart saying that there is a large population of people who buy poptarts and cola in his district. So next speech he is eating a frosting covered pastery and drinking a Pepsi. Does it increase votes? Does anyone really even care?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian, 26 Oct 2006 @ 7:00am

    nothing new

    This is nothing new. You or I can purchase the same data starting at 2.5 cents per name. www.voterlistsonline.com, for example.

    The problem isn't that politicians participate in this practice. The problem is that the practice works - extremely well. That's our fault.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      eric, 26 Oct 2006 @ 7:55am

      Re: nothing new

      You or I can purchase the same data starting at 2.5 cents per name

      Why pay? A lot of voter registration is public information, and even available for free online.

      I registered years ago as a member of the party that I never vote for. I get some hilarious mail around election time.

      Target me all you want, knuckleheads. It just reconfirms my decision to vote for the other folks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike F.M, 26 Oct 2006 @ 7:37am


    ...might be even worse if the info they get on you is wrong. Rather than slightly annoying relevant targeting this moves them onto really annoying completely irrelevant targeting.

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  • identicon
    Trouble Maker, 26 Oct 2006 @ 8:00am

    two cents worth

    I can not find it in my ethics to take a Politician seriously when the only time I hear from them is an automatic phone message asking for my support in the upcoming election.

    If it had been important to them they would personally contacted me throughout their term of service.

    I say; Good riddance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian, 26 Oct 2006 @ 8:33am

    good question

    "Why pay?" - the same reason a novice probably shouldn't be performing DIY surgery. Don't try this at home. ;)

    Make no mistake, there is a science to manipulating voter lists. The single greatest asset of any campaign is their voter list, and there is no close second.... A good one is GOLD. GoTV (Get Out The Vote) effort wins and loses elections.

    Except for a handful of districts in this country, ALL voter info is public information. Those exceptions being holdovers from anti-intimidation clauses of the Civil Rights era.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian, 26 Oct 2006 @ 8:44am

    ... neglected my srongest point:

    Time is a finite quantity in a campaign. Reliable data in your voter list is critical. Companies that sell this stuff advertise guaranteed accuracy rates, but more importantly guarantee that 80+% of all their data is accurate within one year.

    Think about it - how often do you register to vote? How many of you live at the same address you did when you registered? I'm guessing many of you are in college, and if you are like I was, move every 4-5 months... That's a porr analogy tho, since young people generally don't vote and are given little attention by politicians. The elderly, however....

    How do they do it? One company I have intimate knowledge of takes the voter data provided by a state (mostly on tape spools, BTW, because little upgrade to their 70's-era voter-roll technology has been sought), and then matches it to the Postal Service's NCOA System (Nat'l Change of Address System, also public info). Thats just only one of many steps they take to ensure the data they sell is 10x better than what the state can provide for free.

    If you have the resources to do all this on your own, and the confidence to stake your $10 million campaign on the output, have at it! ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), 26 Oct 2006 @ 8:47am

    I think the database works

    I moved from California to Iowa over a year ago. I registered to vote in Iowa. A few weeks ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger called my new Iowa phone number (it has changed twice since I moved) to ask for my support in the upcoming election in California. They are keeping good track of me. Maybe they are hoping I move back before elections. Of course, the voter registration database must be defunct, but that is no surprise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nick, 26 Oct 2006 @ 9:54am

    The Long Tail of Politics

    Isn't this kind of "microtargeting" the way to tap into the long tail of political view points? Any 50 demographically similar (party, age, location, etc.) people are bound to have different views on different things, "niche views" if you will, so why not try and tap into those differences and tailor your message accordingly. Whether these databases should be collecting and selling this info is one thing, but until they're stopped, using their data to serve relevant info to voters seems little different from Universal putting its archives online to fill consumer demand. There's certainly voter demand to have their viewpoints addressed, so if this tactic is effective (big if) it can lead to nothing but good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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