Monday, August 21, 2006

Campaigning By the Numbers

I read a rather stunning commentary piece by Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. In this rather long article, the two Los Angeles Times political reporters detail the extent to which the Republican Party has gone to refine what used to be called Get Out The Vote (GOTV). It isn't just about hammering on red meat issues, it's also about bringing home the bacon. The part that struck me, however, is the sophisticated data collection system used by the GOP to target independent and wavering Democratic voters with a personally tailored appeal.

Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to take power. And Republicans may well suffer some setbacks. But if the GOP retains control of Congress despite such a gloomy political climate -- or even if it keeps control of just one chamber and narrowly loses the other -- party leaders can rightfully argue that their long-term goal of constructing a lasting political majority remains viable.

The Republican fortress has many underpinnings, such as gerrymandered congressional districts that favor the GOP, an intellectual infrastructure that churns ideas through conservative think tanks and media, an ever-stronger political and policy-based alliance with corporate America, and the most sophisticated vote-tracking technology around.

Some of the GOP advantages are recent developments, such as the database called Voter Vault, which was used to precision in the San Diego County special election. The program allows ground-level party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, geography -- even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to.

Both parties can identify voters by precinct, address, party affiliation and, often, their views on hot-button issues. Democrats also use marketing data, but Voter Vault includes far more information culled from marketing sources -- including retailers, magazine subscription services, even auto dealers -- giving Republicans a high-tech edge in the kind of grass-roots politics that has long been the touchstone of Democratic activists.
[Emphasis added]

That both parties have developed ways to manipulate voters as the election date nears is certainly no surprise. Marketing tools have been used and refined ever since the Kennedy-Nixon campaign. The extent of the sophistication, however, was a little startling, although it shouldn't have been. After all, extensive data gathering is easily possible in this brave new world of ours.

What disturbs me more, however, is the fact that such data is so easily obtainable and usable. I have this vague uneasiness that somehow things are going terribly wrong when it comes to the privacy area, especially since we have an administration so insistent on collecting data on all of us via wire taps, telephone records, and who knows what else. I can't help but wonder if the refusal to obtain warrants by the NSA has a more sinister basis.

But, then, my tin foil chapeau may have gotten a little too tight.


Blogger P-Tar said...

Check Wayne Madsen's site for information on the NSA/CIA laptop theft case (ongoing). Basically, since it'd be illegal to simply ORDER the companies to give the data up (for essentially no reason) they're stealing laptops with personnel and accounts data from banks and companies all over America. Totally unreported in the press: we distort (your balls) you comply (with coercion). Meanwhile, the FBI twiddles its thumbs...

6:25 AM  

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