Given all the focus the past couple years on new technologies in elections, from Joe Trippi and Howard Dean to MoveOn.Org and similar groups, its a bit odd to read the Washington Post argue that one of the reasons Bush won in November was because the Republicans better understood and deployed technology to a) target likely Bush voters and b) actually get them out to vote.
The 2002 elections, along with the Kentucky and Mississippi gubernatorial contests the following year, became testing grounds for the Republican effort to mobilize supporters. Designed to get base voters to the polls, it became known as the “72 Hour Project,” whose cost Republican officials refused to disclose but is estimated by sources to have been in the $200 million range.
Under Dowd’s direction, the RNC began investing in extensive voter research. One of the most striking findings, according to Republican consultants, was the ineffectiveness of traditional phone banks and direct mail that targeted voters in overwhelmingly Republican precincts. The problem: Only 15 percent of all GOP voters lived in precincts that voted Republican by 65 percent or more. Worse, an even smaller percentage of “soft” Republicans, the 2004 target constituency, lived in such precincts.
The RNC decided to cast a wider net for voters. But to work, Dowd’s motivation and mobilization strategy needed expensive, high-tech micro targeting to cherry-pick prospective Republicans who lived in majority Democratic neighborhoods.
Republican firms, including TargetPoint Consultants and National Media Inc., delved into commercial databases that pinpointed consumer buying patterns and television-watching habits to unearth such information as Coors beer and bourbon drinkers skewing Republican, brandy and cognac drinkers tilting Democratic; college football TV viewers were more Republican than those who watch professional football; viewers of Fox News were overwhelmingly committed to vote for Bush; homes with telephone caller ID tended to be Republican; people interested in gambling, fashion and theater tended to be Democratic.
Surveys of people on these consumer data lists were then used to determine “anger points” (late-term abortion, trial lawyer fees, estate taxes) that coincided with the Bush agenda for as many as 32 categories of voters, each identifiable by income, magazine subscriptions, favorite television shows and other “flags.” Merging this data, in turn, enabled those running direct mail, precinct walking and phone bank programs to target each voter with a tailored message.
On Nov. 2, GOP Got More Bang For Its Billion, Analysis Shows. Thomas B. Edsall and James V. Grimaldi, Washington Post, December 29, 2004.