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changes through survival of the fittest; the fittest organism survives to pass its genes on to the next generation,” he says. The software first determines the “voter DNA”—the thousands of data points, anything from commute time to income to magazine subscriptions—that describes each voter in a survey. The computer then uses genetic algo- rithms to sift through each string, one by one, to find the sequence that best indicates a generic voter’s propensity to vote in a certain way. He’s also experimenting with neural networking, which is another machine-learning algorithm. But instead of hav- ing a string that defines someone, it’s more akin to a com- plicated web of data that includes commute time, income, likelihood of being African-American, and so on. It could take months to crunch through all the data,

but Strasma’s found a way to use dynamic parallelism to make everything go faster. Sorry for the geekspeak, but dynamic parallelism means, basically, that all these com- puters can work on the same project at the same time. The result is a stripped-down office loaded with flashy liq- uid-cooled computers. Oh, and a very understated bar chart comparing Obama’s Pennsylvania primary results to Strasma’s predictions. Those bars are close. Really, really close. “Some of our scores for similar projects have been accurate within one-tenth of one percent,” he allows. Not shabby.

Attitudinal Data

The right message is easy to develop for a campaign’s core supporters. It’s harder for swing voters and others who may not, on first blush, share a party’s values. Those are the people who fascinate Bob Baskin. His start-up firm, Spotlight Analysis, has one focus: to get inside their guts. “Everybody’s romanticizing about microtargeting, but

they’re missing the point,” Baskin says. “There’s another level of microtargeting beyond consumer data. It’s a bet- ter way yet, and it’s called attitudinal data. It’s about how Americans really want to live their lives.” Backed by Democrats like Herb Miller, Don Baer and

Mike McCurry, Spotlight Analysis ran a $1 million na- tional study of 5,000 people in 2006. It clustered voters into 10 segments based on their most deeply held beliefs. Take the barnraisers, for example. They care about per-

sonal responsibility, integrity, about doing the right thing. For years, barnraisers voted Republican. But they were so hor- rified by that party’s ethics and sex scandals in 2006, Baskin says, that “my barnraisers came home and voted for the Democratic candidates in the 50 to 60 percent range.” That margin handed Democrats their congressional majority. So for one federal race Baskin is modeling this cycle,

he’s advised the candidate that he has an opportunity to address the barnraisers by framing his opponent’s ties to big business in terms of fairness.

The software determines the voter’s DNA—then finds the sequence that best predicts a voter’s propensity to vote a certain way.

“We said, talk about the job losses these companies have caused—how fair is it that these companies are laying off your friends and neighbors but providing your opponent with large campaign contributions?” Baskin says.

Facial Recognition Software

“Big Brother is here,” says data guru Bob Blaemire about the new facial recognition software from Micro Target Media. He means that in a good way. Since launching its political division earlier this year, the international firm has campaigns on both sides of the aisle plenty excited about its facial recognition technology. Let’s say John McCain holds a rally in Miami. As he’s run-

ning through his stump speech, talking about patriotism, helping small businesses and improving education opportu- nities, video cameras are filming the entire audience’s facial expressions. And let’s say one audience member, on her way into the rally, had signed up for a raffle and walked away with a keychain implanted with a small RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip. The campaign could use the chip to identify her, analyze her reactions to the speech, and send her a mail piece targeting the issues she cares about most. “You put those together and you have the most power- ful set of microtargeting tools that you could have,” says Terry Popowich, the firm’s CEO. The technology can also analyze people’s emotive responses on topics where they’d be less forthright with a pollster. “Imagine getting a focus group’s emotive responses to an ad before it runs,” Popowich says. “You don’t have to ask them about [a tough subject]. Getting people’s pure uncontrolled responses to an ad could be a very pow- erful way to understand what you need to do to elicit [genuine] responses in people.” These seven innovators, of course, are just the tip of the ice-

berg. Google is using geotargeting; eVoiceAmerica is invent- ing ways to get voters to volunteer personal data; Holinshed Research Group is using GPS to improve sampling quality. Which is all to say that the innovations are only begin-

ning. And the breakthroughs unfolding now will change the political terrain in ways we can’t fully predict. That’s probably why every firm out there wants to claim they “do microtar- geting.” But the future belongs to the true pioneers.

Christie Findlay is the deputy editor for Capitol File.

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