Bringing a Whole New Meaning
to the Term Retail Politics
For a great overview of how Karl Rove (who began his career as a direct-mail maven) and his team teased out a win in the last presidential election, take a moment and read the February cover story of Campaigns & Elections, the bible of the political industry. The article (which unfortunately is online only for subscribers. I suggest you find it at your closest library) "The Political Bull's Eye--Persuading the Right People with Microtargeting," describes the state-of-the-art practice of what's called psychographics, or the study of segmenting people according to their lifestyles, only here as it relates to political campaigns. The article begins this way:
When you talk with the staff of TargetPoint Consulting, you can forget you're discussing politics. There's little discussion of polls, personalities or congressional scandals. The buzzwords here are 'census blocks,' 'data overlays,' 'SPSS software right out of the box.' But this is nuts and bolts politics, and an increasing number of campaigns are hearing these terms as they use something called microtargeting to win elections...Using the same statistical modeling that retail firms use to find likely customers for soda, gum or washing machines, TargetPoint consultants find correlations between voters' political ideology and their lifestyles.'
These tactics were used most decisively in Ohio, where Republican campaign operatives targeted their most likely voters in the most likely areas--the newly booming regions (like Portage County) where formerly rural areas are rapidly becoming exurbs. These practices explain why some voters in Portage reported receiving as many as 11 pieces of direct mail from the Bush campaign, as this illuminating New York Times Magazine piece reported shortly after the election, even though the Democrats didn't necessarily perceive a strong opposing campaign. The upshot: in the 21st century, it won't be the old standby tactics, like door-to-door outreaches or even costly TV commercials, that will swing close elections. The winners will be those who better adapt to politics the same strategies P&G has been using to push mouthwash.
A depressing thought, perhaps. But one with which the Democrats had better come to terms quickly. This is just one more problem caused by the Electoral College, which is increasingly pushing presidential campaigns to largely ignore wide swaths of the electorate--including dozens of states solidly in one camp or the other--as they narrow their focus to a few key battleground states, and increasingly smaller portions of those states. This was the one thing the Founding Fathers got wrong.