They knew how you were going to vote

Published 12:04am Friday, November 9, 2012

If you didn’t get a phone call from the Obama campaign this year, chances are they already knew how you were going to vote.

If you are like me and live in the deep red south, they probably didn’t really care. States like Mississippi and Louisiana were never part of the president’s strategy to keep the White House any way.

But if they ever do come into play, the odds are that future campaigns will know for whom you will cast your vote before you even enter the polling place.

It may sound absurd, but your vote is probably not as secret and sacrosanct as you think it is — thanks to science and the Internet age.

The information you give via the credit-card purchases you make and the websites you visit are the Holy Grail for campaigns.

For the millions of voters living in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and a handful of other battleground states, the president’s campaign was not just spending time and money wooing voters with ads and campaign rallies this year. Behind the scenes they were gathering as much data as they could about each and every voter.

According to The New York Times, the Obama campaign hired a team of behavioral scientists “to build an extraordinarily sophisticated database packed with names of millions of undecided voters and potential supporters. The ever-expanding list let the campaign find and register new voters who fit the demographic pattern of Obama backers and methodically track their views through thousands of telephone calls every night.”

With this database, the Obama campaign was successful in altering the make up of the electorate.

According to The Times, the Romney campaign was stunned that these strategies brought out voters “they never even knew existed.” These voters were younger and less white than they expected, especially in Democratic-rich areas like the counties in south Florida.

Such tactics should not come as a surprise. Retail giants like Target have been using them for years.

Charles Duhigg wrote about this in his book “The Power of Habit.” Using behavioral science, Target has been able to identify pregnant women just by the purchases they make — even if the women had not shared their news.

Attracting pregnant women is important. If you can get them to make purchases during the second trimester, chances are they will become frequent customers.

Scientists for Target discovered that women make certain specific purchases during their pregnancy, like unscented hand lotions, vitamins and cleaning supplies. Target has identified 25 different products that pregnant women commonly buy and uses the purchase of these items to predict with uncanny accuracy when a woman will deliver her baby.

How successful is it? In a separate New York Times story Duhigg related a story of a father who was upset that Target was sending his high school daughter coupons for baby items, accusing the company of trying to encourage his child to get pregnant.

When he returned home, the father discovered that his daughter was keeping a secret — she was due in August.

If Target can use behavioral analysis to identify pregnant women and their due dates, it should come as no surprise that campaigns can use the same methods to identify potential supporters.

All they need is the information.

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.