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Voter Targeting: Can We Justify It?

Voter targeting continues to gain momentum as being the Holy Grail of campaign intelligence. In political election cycles, many column inches are given to which campaign has aggregated more data from voters’ Facebook profiles, their Twitter feeds, their magazine subscriptions or their voting history.

Added to this are the vast sums being spent every year, particularly in the US, on getting the jump on the competition with regard to the quality and depth of voter targeting information. The idea being, that if you can distil and segment before your campaign really kicks into gear then you can save yourself a lot of time and money that other campaigns will waste on voters who really aren’t interested in your message.

Data Driven

This year Ted Cruz was lauded for his ground-game voter targeting efforts in the run-up to the Iowa caucus. He built his own voter profiling model based on personality types and then segmented messaging based on these different outlooks.

A team obsessed with data, there wasn’t an area that the Cruz camp didn’t explore or attempt. Brushing off criticism when he came under attack for mailing people suggesting they should be 'embarrassed' that they hadn’t voted in the last few elections. A method straight out of the Gerber and Green 1998 New Haven Experiment, find out more about that here.

While his success in Iowa was not able to be replicated in other primaries where his lead in time was much shorter and he has since ditched the entire program, it still proved a wholly successful endeavor, having defeated the now untouchable Trump.


So is voter targeting the future of campaigning? Is it the magic bullet that will get you elected or do campaigners need to assess it on a case by case basis?

Firstly, voter targeting is not a foolproof method of understanding voters. Just because someone subscribes to a left-leaning publication doesn’t necessarily mean they will vote blue. The risk of misunderstanding voters is real and campaigns place a great deal of faith in voter targeting companies whose data is built on interpretative data analysis by its nature.

Equally, there is the risk of ruling out voters who may well be open to a certain campaign’s message. In addition, all data analytics comes at a cost, the bigger the campaign, the easier it is going to be to subsume those costs but it may not be economically sensible for smaller campaigns.

Taking the case of a local election campaign with the target of, say, 4,000 votes to win, it might be a far better solution to avoid voter targeting information altogether and to leverage volunteers and friends to target stronghold areas to try to get out the vote. There is a larger issue of course about whether the end game of elections is to get elected or to represent the people and, if you are still idealistic enough to subscribe to the latter then voter targeting may fly in the face of that aim. Taking every voter on their merit and hoping to reach them all with your message is an enviable position to find yourself but unfortunately it's rare.

If however you are serious about connecting with your voters and establishing a solid foundation for the next election, why not sign up for our 14-day free trial and find out what Ecanvasser can do for you.

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