Democrats Aim to Regain Edge In Getting Voters to the Polls
It may seem like a distant memory now, but Democrats not so long ago dominated the battle between the parties to get their voters to the polls.
Over the past half-dozen years, Republicans reinvented the system, using sophisticated computer modeling and vast amounts of consumer data. In 2002 and 2004, they demonstrated their newfound superiority -- to the dismay of Democratic Party officials and their allies.
Campaigns and candidates once used blunt instruments to mobilize voters, targeting geographic areas where there were concentrations of Democratic or Republican voters. Those techniques remain an essential part of the turnout wars that can decide a close election, which is why campaigns, political parties and their ideological allies will put legions of volunteers on the streets in the final days before Nov. 7.
Increasingly, however, campaigns have begun identifying potential voters literally one by one, even if they live in areas dominated by the opposition party. Using surveys and modeling and consumer and political data, the parties convert the electorate into subgroups that turnout specialists call by names like "Flag and Family Republicans," "Education-Focused Democrats" and "Older Suburban Newshounds."
This is known as microtargeting, and it turns traditional political mobilizing on its head by giving campaigns the opportunity to create virtual precincts of voters and poach on the opponent's turf.
With the click of a mouse, a Democratic campaign operative can call up a list (and accompanying map) identifying by name and address voters who may live in a Republican precinct or county but who, by virtue of ideology, party identification, religion, favorite drink or television show, or make of car, are more likely to vote Democratic.
The Republicans have attracted attention to their microtargeting skills by emphasizing the importance of consumer information in predicting voting patterns -- Republicans prefer bourbon, for instance, while Democrats prefer gin. Such lifestyle information is most helpful in tailoring messages for voters, though other information such as party identification or frequency of church attendance remains a more reliable predictor of how someone is likely to vote.