Do you drink Coors or Corona? Drive a Porsche or a Prius? Think only an advertising executive on Madison Avenue cares about your preferences and habits? Wrong. Welcome to the world of campaigning 2.0. Today, the folks from the DNC to the RNC care, and very likely already know everything about you. After the success of the Obama campaign, microtargeting, the art of applying consumer data to voter outreach, is in politics to stay.
What Alex Gage and the Republican Party revolutionized in 2000 is now standard practice in politics: using personal data collected by “powerful and expensive databases” (see the GOP’s Voter Vault and the progressive Catalist) to “target voters with pinpoint precision.” Now that the Democrats have finally caught up with the Republicans in their store of data knowledge, Alex Gage said it best, “…once you have the information, what do you do with it? That’s the real question.”
Republicans, as usual, took the early advantage, launching their vaunted “72-Hour Project” in the 2002 election to get base voters to the polls. The Obama campaign took it to the next level in 2008, compiling all information into one massive database and using that data to contact voters when they wanted it, how they wanted it and with the information they wanted to hear.
Which raises the bigger question of what the future of microtargeting will mean to politics and the electorate? The debate over invasion of privacy issues that always arises with microtargeting is a non-issue to me as that information already exists in the public space and is used every day to persuade me to choose Target over K-Mart, Coke over Pepsi and Nike over Reebok. The real question, for me, is the harm microtargeting does to the electorate. Just as the Internet can make politics a one-way conversation, will the growth of microtargeting in politics mean the electorate is pandered to, with voters only hear the messaging they want, when they want it, framed in the way they want it? Reporters are already covering the prospect of Obama unleashing his online army in the White House. Microtargeting as governance?
In the end though, no matter how high we try to exult it, politics is business, and microtargeting makes good business sense. Political database firms have goals of building a “living record of nearly every political action undertaken by an American,” the Republican Party will rebuild and Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 could cost $1 billion. Microtargeting is here to stay.