By PATRICIA LOPEZ
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
October 30, 2006
You've just been micro-targeted.
Armed with the kind of lifestyle and consumer information long used by big business to market products, Republicans, in particular, have devised a system that tells them whether you like to golf or go on cruises, drink wine or imported beer, watch cable or network TV, and prefer fancy restaurants or burger joints. They know the size of your mortgage and whether you gamble at casinos.
They don't just know this about people "like" you. They know it about you. You, the one reading this article.
Add on sophisticated polling and analysis, and the GOP is cranked up like never before to ferret out votes.
Liberal interest groups are road-testing their own micro-targeting system that allows them to pinpoint the lone Democrat living in a suburb full of Republicans.
Unlike Republican efforts, which are closely coordinated through the Republican National Committee, Democratic micro-targeting efforts are centralized in the America Votes coalition.
The coalition includes Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, the Human Rights Campaign, labor unions, Clean Water Action and others.
"We can target our message down to the individual voter," boasted Karen White, national political director for Emily's List, a major player in the coalition. "We can talk to the wife about her issue and the husband about his. If you're interested in environment, we can have Clean Water action door-knock you. If you're an education person, we can send a teacher from the local elementary school. That's a really meaningful personal voter contact, much more than a 30-second ad."
Micro-targeting is not new. Merchandising giants rely on it to help target their messages, adapt products and promote brand loyalty. If the level of information seems startling, most of it is drawn from public and private databases quietly amassed by clearinghouses that keep the raw consumer data, but sell the information drawn from it across the country.
"All we did was apply it to politics," said Matthew Dowd, former senior campaign strategist for President Bush and architect of the system Republicans call "Voter Vault."
By itself, however, the information is little more than a fun parlor game: Do Republicans prefer Sprite or Dr. Pepper? Ballet or basketball? The value added, Dowd said, comes in the polling, modeling and analysis that track voters' lifestyles and interests and predict their preferences.
For instance, he said, a union worker living in St. Paul in 2002, single, non-churchgoing, Sierra Club member, would have been written off by Republicans.
But what if by 2006 that same man had gotten married, moved to Scott County, bought a minivan, joined a mega-church?
"Now you've got a chance," Dowd said. "The whole point is, lifestyle really matters."
Income does not. One of the most intriguing revelations of Voter Vault, Dowd said, was that income was not a great vote predictor.
By 2004, Voter Vault stunned Democrats with its ability to find Republican votes and turn them out in the last 72 hours of the campaign.
So how does all this machinery translate into votes?
With the same amount of money that went into old-fashioned precinct-by-precinct voter drives, both sides can more closely target their resources, reaching deep into one another's territories for votes.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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