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Techniques to Define Political Identity
Politicians once used party affiliation to define segments of the voting population likely or not to support a candidate. Today, the hottest trend in politics is a computer-based technique of voter identification called micro targeting.
Micro targeting identifies individual voters by a combination of lifestyle characteristics. According to an article in U.S. News & World Report, the Republican Party of Michigan has established categories of identification for the states seven million voters based upon personal data such as age, voting behavior, income, magazine subscriptions, favorite vacation spots, length of the voters daily commute, and whether or not the voter has a telephone with caller ID.
Once the data has been assembled, computer-modeling software relates particular combinations of characteristics to political categories that indicate the voters political interests or hot buttons, if you will. The category, in turn, determines what message should be sent to the prospective voter so make that person favorably inclined to vote for the partys candidate. For example, voters known to be pro-life might be sent letters emphasizing the candidates opposition to abortion. If the voter is pro-choice, another message would be sent.
This technique takes the guess work out of the process of communicating with voters. A single message sent to all voters would please some and offend others. On the other hand, these microtargeted messages would be sent only to voters known to be favorably disposed to their point of view. The individual voter would believe that the candidate agrees with his or her position on certain issues while being unaware of disagreement with respect to other issues.
Both Democrats and Republicans use micro targeting techniques in their political campaigns. The Republicans have hired a firm called TargetPoint Consulting Inc. to help their campaigns. Emilys List, a PAC for women, uses similar techniques to help the Democrats. In 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign paid TargetPoint Consulting $3.25 million to produce micro targeting models for 18 battleground states. The Bush campaigns chief strategist said that party affiliation became secondary to lifestyle in deciding which messages to pitch to voters. This individualized approach thus allowed President Bush to make inroads into traditionally Democratic constituencies.
The following table lists ten voting identities that TargetPoint Consulting Inc. devised for the Michigan Republican party. The first column attaches a label to the category of voter. The second gives the number of Michigan voters in that category. The third gives the percentage of Republicans among voters in the category. The fourth gives the percentage of voters committed to voting for George W. Bush.
Segment name Segment Size percent Republican percent for Bush Flag & Family Republicans 54,659 79% 83% Anti-porn & anti-terrorism Republicans 160,131 75% 88% Mellow Bush supporters 123,076 58% 79% Schoolhouse & Tax cut weak Republicans 96,429 51% 69% Younger cultural liberals 225,652 44% 63% Education independents 400,549 34% 51% Religious independents 101,689 34% 57% Unmotivated (mostly) female independents 142,481 31% 60% Terrorism and health-care Democrats 89,785 25% 39% Wedgable weak Democrats 516,261 21% 43%
Source: U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 25, 2006, pp. 30-31; Applebees America by Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd, and Ron Fournier.
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