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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 state’s seven million voters based upon personal data such as age, voting behavior, income, magazine subscriptions, favorite vacation spots, length of the voter’s 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 voter’s 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 party’s candidate. For example, voters known to be pro-life might be sent letters emphasizing the candidate’s 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. Emily’s 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 campaign’s 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; Applebee’s America by Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd, and Ron Fournier.

 

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