Home' Technology Review : March April 2009 Contents REVIEWS
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MARCH /APRIL
If you're a Democrat (although Republi-
cans will have similar experiences), don't
be surprised if a canvasser knocks on your
door in 2012 and, glancing at his iPhone, says,
"Ms. Smith, thanks for your $50 donation
four years ago---and for attending the Joneses'
party on the environment. Care to call voters
in Ohio to help reëlect President Obama? Oh,
and your neighbor Mrs. Jensen
couldn't get to the polls in 2008.
Think you could give her a lift
on Election Day?"
As you answer his questions,
the canvasser will stroke his
iPhone, and a campaign server
will squirrel away your answers.
Minutes later, you'll get an e-mail from the
campaign: "Thanks, Ms. Smith, for prom-
ising to make calls in Ohio." If you click
the link, up will pop a list of 10 Ohio voters
whose answers to phone-bank callers in
2008 suggest that they wavered between
McCain and Obama and were concerned
about the environment. You might call them
and---following a provided script---explain
Obama's environmental record, ask for their
views on several issues and candidates, and
record their answers with mouse clicks on
a Web interface.
The next day, one of the Ohioans you'd
spoken to---the one who professed strong
support for Obama and a willingness to
volunteer---will receive an e-mail with the
names and addresses of 10 unregistered but
voting-age people within a half-mile who,
according to a party algorithm that analyzes
demographic and consumer data, are likely
Democrats. She'll hit the streets, armed
with Ohio voter registration forms she's
downloaded from a link in
the e-mail. Another Ohioan---
who'd told you he worked as
a nurse and strongly supports
Obama---will get a different
e-mail. It will contain a list of
licensed nurses in swing states,
and a script for calling them
to enlist their support.
On it will go. The night before Election
Day, your phone will ring; an Obama volun-
teer somewhere will have logged in to the
campaign's website to make get-out-the-vote
calls. "Just wanted to remind you to vote," she
will say, following a script based on the latest
data about you, "and to check in with Mrs.
Jensen to see if she needs that ride."
The next morning, when you drive Mrs.
Jensen to the firehouse, you will notice a
college student standing near the sign-in
desk, quietly tapping her BlackBerry. She
is a poll watcher. She will note your arrival
and---with a stroke of her finger---erase your
name and Mrs. Jensen's, in real time, from
the Democrats' Election Day call list.
This is a plausible scene from the next presi-
dential election, which will be an unprece-
dentedly personal campaign. In 2007 and
2008, the vaunted Obama Web operation
produced a powerful by-product: hundreds
of millions of new pieces of data on voters.
That information is now held principally
by the Obama campaign, the Democratic
National Committee, and a private data-
base company called Catalist.
Both Democrats and Republicans have
long maintained databases with whatever
intelligence they can muster on individual
voters. Party o cials obtain lists of regis-
tered voters (about 170 million people) from
the secretaries of state in the 50 states, plus
the names of those who are eligible to vote
but aren't registered (another 50 million
people). Then they use phone banks and
shoe-leather canvassing to learn which can-
didates these citizens prefer and what issues
they care about. Other sources provide new
details: who has been a campaign donor or
volunteer; who shows up in public databases
of people holding, say, nursing licenses or
hunting licenses. During the last election
cycle, the Web tools for accessing and adding
to these databases got better, and far more
volunteers used them. "We went from a bolt-
action rifle to a machine gun, but we also
trained lots of people how to use it," says a
senior Democratic Party insider.
The Republicans are no slouches, either.
Five years ago, the big story was their push
toward microtargeting---identifying niche
VASTLY FATTENED VOTER DATABASES WILL PROVE TO BE AMONG
THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL RACE'S MOST ENDURING LEGACIES.
By DAVID TALBOT
OBAMA FOR AMERICA
Links Archive January February 2009 May June 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page