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Effective Micro-Targeting

By Andrew Tavani  
Political organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing voter data for polls, live and automated phone programs, direct-mail pieces, fundraising, e-mails, walk-lists, and other voter contact efforts. However, many will purchase inadequate data with incomplete vote history, outdated addresses, and bad telephone numbers, or even worse, “save” money by using
their ‘out-of-date’ lists. Even after experiencing poor results, campaigns still fail to ask basic questions to better ensure that the voter data that they are purchasing includes the information that they are expecting to receive. When was the data last collected? Does it include recent vote history? How was the file collected? How frequently are telephone numbers and addresses updated? What fields are available on each voter record? To be considered qualified data, the details are everything. It is critical that a buyer be made aware of, and understands the exact details concerning the purchase of data before an organization invests its money in the completion of the data transaction.
It is also important to consider other factors when purchasing a voter file: vendor reliability, turn-around time to acquire the data, availability of updates, political experience, and ethics. However, none is more important than thinking through how you plan to utilize your voter list and what fields are most useful for your direction as opposed to those that would be nice to have. For example, if your candidate is a military veteran, it is important to have a voter list of other veterans or those currently serving in the military.  If your candidate is Latino, it is important to be able to identify voters who are Hispanic or Spanish speaking.  It is essential to have the data elements your campaign needs to target its message. Instead of saving a few dollars on the front end, over the long haul, your organization will lose more money than it could ever hope to save by not having the information it needs to target effectively.
Much consideration should be given to your voter file budget in comparison to what you are spending on your voter contact efforts overall. If you created a pie chart of campaign expenditures, the investment in voter data costs would not even be a visible percentage! Then consider the wasted resource in spending thirty cents to a dollar or more attempting to contact an individual voter who in reality has moved, died, or does not belong in your voter target in the first place. The regular re-acquisition of a fresh qualified, up to date list, each time you begin a major communications effort, will result in money and resource savings every time.

Shortcomings of Traditional Political Targeting
In the past, many organizations viewed a voter file as just a record of people who are registered to vote, which party they belong to, or how frequently they came out to polls. These fields come standardfrom the board of elections on a voter file. Other fields such as age, gender, race (where available), early or absentee voters (in some states) come standard as well. Many strategists and political tacticians who previously had success using these traditional partisan, geographic, and turnout profiles are still leaving some of the best voters untouched.  Today, many voter file vendors and both national political parties have appended consumer and lifestyle information such as hunting and fishing licenses, demographic information such as marital status or the presence of children in the household, magazine subscriptions, donor history, and financial data allowing campaigns and political organizations to better tailor their message. In the data world, the more data you have the better opportunity you have for success. No one data element can tell you the entire story regarding how and whether individuals will vote. However, when you combine political attitudes and preferences with consumer overlays you get much closer to making contact with the voters that you need to target and get out to the polls.

In today’s political landscape with a divided government and our political parties more polarized than ever, there are fewer and fewer undecided voters. The opportunity to slice and dice voter profiles is commonly referred to as micro-targeting and has become the buzz word and common topic of discussion in political campaign circles.  Pollsters and micro-targeting companies must first assist candidates to determine who is inclined to support them, then identify additional groups where opportunity exists to influence their support.  Once this is determined, campaigns can identify the political DNA of a voter by combining voting behavior with numerous consumer and behavioral overlays.
In electoral politics, strategic decisions happen at the 11th hour.  However, if you believe that better planning correlates with better results then you should be thinking about voter file management early in the process.  Your voter file vendor should be able to provide you counts and pricing for budgetary decisions. It is also important to find out standard delivery times and whether your vendor has an online system for running counts and delivering the data on your timetable, not theirs. As with anything, forethought and planning will pay off with major dividends. 
Once you have the universe and groups that you want to target, there are numerous ways that a voter file can be used, whether on large campaigns or local races, such as direct-mail, polling, telephone calls, and canvassing efforts.

Consider two separate uses of micro-targeting. In addition to helping you decide who you want to reach; microtargeting can help you shape your message, even to those whom you feel are unlikely supporters. In the past, we may not have “targeted” certain groups when we feared that they would simply not support our candidacy. However, if they have voted in the past four elections, you can be sure of their likelihood to vote again. In this case, you might as well tailor your strongest message in an attempt to sway them under these circumstances. To ignore them can have a more detrimental effect than to be able to tailor your strongest message to that specific target. This use of technology can enable you to speak directly to each individual or household about issues that are specifically relevant to them.

Think of your voter lists as a perishable, but inexpensive part of your campaign management methodology. Always keep in mind that, just as new voters are registering every day, other voters are leaving the district roll for various reasons. Do not waste time and money trying to reach these ex-voters. Buy qualified lists today and put in place a plan to refresh that list often.

Andrew Tavani is Vice President of National Sales at Aristotle International,
a political technology and voter file firm with offices in
Washington, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Toronto.
Andrew can be reached at
Click here to contact this Author

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