Do You Know What Your Voter Wants to Hear?

Street view on Google maps still sort of wows me. I'm still not sure I'm prepared for the power of being able to see almost every house in America, block by block. So it's really no surprise that VoterMapping blew my mind. 

VoterMapping is a new campaign tool that allows a user to see not only every house, but who lives in the house, how they vote, and even what kinds of magazines they get. You can map the state of Illinois based on Democrats who give to religous organizations and enjoy gardening magazines. The tool not only can give likely ethnicities, income levels, and tell you whether people have a premium credit card, but it can also show all the data points around congressional districts, state legislative districts—even elementary school districts. 

In the meantime, national campaigns—with access to state money—can use the internet to figure out where you live, what you like, and where you shop. After that, it's easy to tailor web ads to appeal to you. Welcome to the new world of campaigning, based largely on your personal data. 

Internet campaigning can seem particularly freaky. A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine published a story called "How Companies Learn Your Secrets," detailing just how much some stores use personal data for marketing. The story zeroed in on Target, which can figure out when women are pregnant and then market specifically to their needs. But while the article prompted an outcry from many (it has over 570 comments so far), campaigns are using similar tactics. 

"Any one who believes they have privacy online is kidding themselves," says Joe Trippi, who managed the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, the pioneer of online campaign fundraising. "It's not the campaigns, it's the Internet. People think that that you can go visit any site you want and they're not collecting the data. That's just not reality."

Much like corporations, Trippi says campaigns can target individuals based on the sites they frequent and things they buy. Based on those patterns, you can get an ad targeting specific areas of interest. "You don't know that you're the only person getting it," says Trippi. "You still think that everyone else's webpage is looking exactly like yours.

"What you're not realizing is a mother visiting that site is getting at ad about her pregnancy while you're getting an ad about being a veteran."
Trippi notes that such technology is only starting to be fully harnessed. He points to the Obama campaign as by far the most sophisticated in its Internet strategy, though other national campaigns are also working to take a similar approach. Still the Internet efforts are expensive and new.
For state-level candidates, tools like VoterMapping are a more affordable way to tailor messaging. "The real power of the tool is its ability to visualize extremely large data sets at speeds that are high enough that you can really make use," says Bruce Willsie, a spokesman for the product. The program help highlight areas in a district and show pockets of potential voters that might otherwise have been hard to identify. (See their how-to video below). According to Willsie, it's the only product that can display so much data on a map, letting campaigns better target mailers and phone calls. Imagine a door-to-door campaigner who knows which issues to talk about based on what magazines you subscribe to.
The marketing data available for Illinois will soon be integrated into the entire country, Willsie says, helping campaigns to better target constituencies. "The fundamental issue is the more data available, the better decisions that can be made by the candidates and by the consultants, in speaking to the issues that particular groups of issues," he says. 
Labels and Lists, the company that owns VoterMapping, is unaffiliated and only provides the data, rather than offering consulting. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out access to data like this was once the stuff of political consulting dreams.
Now it's a consumer reality. 


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