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Campaign 2012: Mining for voters

Robert L. Mitchell | Oct. 30, 2012
Big data, analytics and mobile apps are enabling smaller political campaigns and advocacy groups to be more effective when it comes to winning over voters and raising money.

"Our database is about civic behavior and transactions, what issues you care about, what causes you support, whether you tend to vote or not, and so on," says Catalist CEO Laura Quinn.

Catalist matches up the Sierra Club's member database with its own data and provides access to the full database, which combines state voter registration lists with commercial consumer data that includes demographic (race, gender, age, income) and psychographic (interests, hobbies, lifestyles) information on individuals and households. Catalist buys commercial consumer data from traditional data aggregators and reporting agencies such as Acxiom and Equifax. Voter lists come from the states.

For those states that don't release voter registration data, Catalist has developed models that predict, at the household level, who is likely to be Republican or Democrat and how they're likely to vote -- something it couldn't do in 2008. "Our database is about civic behavior and transactions, what issues you care about, what causes you support, whether you tend to vote or not, and so on," says Catalist CEO Laura Quinn.

Yair Ghitza, senior scientist at Catalist, explains further: "Our clients determine the likelihood that someone is going to vote, care about certain issues or has leanings on certain issues, their partisanship and ideologies, and the actions they're most likely to engage in when they take civic action," he says.

Aristotle Inc. offers a similar service to trade associations and campaigns, including both presidential campaigns, according to CEO John Aristotle Phillips. Its database of more than 700 data fields, which describe the traits of more than 85 million registered voters, is used for both fundraising and get-out-the-vote initiatives.

"What we're seeing in 2012 is much more effective use of real-time access" to databases about voters, says John Aristotle Phillips, CEO of Aristotle Inc.

Clients use it to create models that find people who are similarly minded or likely to contribute. Aristotle then helps them deliver a targeted message to individuals who match the criteria through various channels, including TV, direct mail, email and social media. The more sophisticated campaigns were doing this in the last election cycle, says Aristotle.

"What we're seeing in 2012 is much more effective use of real-time access to these databases. You know as contributions are coming in who else to email of a similar demographic," he says.

"Digital is no longer a separate division in campaigns," says Patrick Hynes, president of Hynes Communications, a consultancy specializing in online and new media communications strategy that currently serves as an adviser to the Romney campaign. "It's cross-portfolio -- everyone has to work in a digital environment."

But the next election cycle, he says, will be all about mobile. "Mobile will be first in the minds of everyone" -- for everything from polling to press releases, sentiment measurement and fundraising, he says.

 

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