No wonder Obama decided to ultimately support FISA and illegal surveillance of US citizens. You never know where database marketing will lead.
You know, of course, that Obama has your e-mail address. You may not have realized that he probably also has your phone number and knows where you’re registered to vote — including whether that’s a house or an apartment building, and whether you rent or own. He’s got a decent estimate of your household income and whether you opened a credit card recently. He knows how many kids you’re likely to have and what you do for a living. He knows what magazines and catalogs you get and whether you’re more apt to get your news from cable TV, the local newspaper or online. And he knows what time of day you tend to get around to plowing through your in box and responding to messages.
The 5 million people on Obama’s e-mail list are just the start of what political strategists say is one of the most sophisticated voter databases ever built. Using a combination of the information that supporters are volunteering, data the campaign is digging up on its own and powerful market research tools first developed for corporations, Obama’s staff has combined new online organizing with old-school methods of voter outreach to assemble a central database for hitting people with messages tailored as closely as possible to what they’re likely to want to hear. It’s an ambitious melding of corporate marketing and grassroots organizing that the Obama campaign sees as a key to winning this fall.
It isn’t groundbreaking to compile such a database, but it is new in the political arena. Credit card companies, automobile manufacturers, and other corporations have been doing this sort of data mining for several years now, with the statistical models becoming increasingly sophisticated.1
Neither the campaign or its consultants would offer up many details about the operation; what they have is most likely a mix of hard data and predictions based on statistical models. Some very specific tidbits are available from consumer marketing firms; if you’ve ever registered a product — a TV, a computer or a microwave, for example — chances are the campaign knows you own it. Likewise, they know if you’ve signed up for the frequent customer club at your local Whole Foods, or if you’ve joined the American Civil Liberties Union. (Yes, those last two probably make you an Obama supporter). Or whether you own a gun and have a current hunting license. (An indicator you’re less likely to pull the lever for him in November.)
They can add that to what they know about the neighborhood in which you live — even about your specific block — then run all the information through a computer, and voilà: Obama aides can pull up a list of, say, married white men over 30 from an area where people buy a lot of gourmet potato chips and Miller High Life sells well.
For the most part, no one particular piece of information has an overwhelming Democratic or Republican tilt, though there are a few exceptions. For instance, people who live in “multi-unit dwellings” — apartment buildings — tend to be overwhelmingly Democrats, possibly because that one indicator tends to bring others along, like income, neighborhood density and living in a city
- which is why I always give a few false answers to corporate seekers of data [↩]