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Shop Talk MICROTARGETING


should use the models blindly, where they should use the models straightforwardly. You should em- power people so that they don’t either distrust it or trust it so much that they turn off their politi- cal brains.


Drechsler: The worst thing that could happen is to have a model that sits on a shelf. You spend the time and the effort and the campaign spends the money, and nothing ever happens.


Rivlin: Or, they layer on things they shouldn’t be layering on. They say, “This is a model score, so I will use this within the universe that they would have already selected.” Sometimes they have good reasons to do that, but sometimes it defeats the whole purpose of the model.


Allen: That’s always the friction: How do you get what you can provide to that sweet spot of what can be used and what will be used? We could talk till we’re blue in the face about propensity groups, clusters, classes, all sorts of fun stuff. There are always three skill sets worth looking for in our firm: people who are smart and can do great analytics; people who can sell the stuff, because we’re a for-profit in- dustry; and then people who can help communicate it back to the users.


Drechsler: [You’re] educating somebody who might be a regional field director on this cycle, but two cycles from now might be a campaign man- ager on a statewide level. That’s the investment.


C&E: We’ve talked a bit about going down ballot, where budgets get smaller and smaller. What’s the furthest down ballot you have seen microtargeting used effectively?


Allen: Well, if I start talking about the state sen- ate or state assembly races in California, those are spending more money than half the congressional races in the country.


Rivlin: It’s not so much what level the race is, as much as what level it’s purchased at. So if you are working for a statewide entity, whether it’s a cau- cus or an interest group, the economies of scale are worthwhile for buying some modeling that isn’t going to be as precise for each individual race but will give them a lot of purchase across their races. If the cost is minimal or zero, then, unless you’re not doing any direct voter contact, you can still use it. The question is whether it’s worth investing in from the beginning if it’s a lot of money.


70 Campaigns & Elections | Canadian Edition


Allen: That’s the real challenge: The places where, intellectually, these kind of targeting and analytics tools would be most powerful and useful are the campaigns that are most reliant on door-knock- ing, phone-banking, and direct voter contact. For the New York City mayoral race, I’m sure they bought the whole world. So much of the move- ment of that race—and I didn’t poll it, so I have no idea what moved what—but presumably it was television. Everyone’s got a little bit of money to throw around to buy some TV. It’s when your only tool in your arsenal is direct voter contact, mail, phones, and doors that the quality and so- phistication of the targeting is going to be the most impactful in terms of real wins/losses, be- cause it’s the only way you’re communicating. The flip side of that is where budgets become smaller, because if you had a lot of money to buy TV you wouldn’t be relying so much on knock- ing on doors and phone banking. That’s the chal- lenge we all face.


Rivlin: The other place where it’s most beneficial is where you don’t have obvious cues to target. So, the places that can’t afford it are often the places that need it the most. The classic example of that would be in a primary election. You can target on who is likely to vote pretty easily by vote history. Knowing who is likely to support your candidate rather than the other candidate is crucial. You don’t have partisan registration, partisan primary history, and this is where it is most impactful. There are not that many places where primary candidates have enough money to really invest in it, and then the question is whether they have enough direct voter contact to make it worthwhile. That’s where you can do more interesting stuff, in states where it is easier to identify the supporters and lack of supporters. That’s where the added val- ue is if you start modeling issues or subsets within. We tell people not to do projects if they can get 90% of the way there using what they’ve already got in the file. It’s a waste of their time. Meyers: Ballot issues, too, are a huge area where this can be of benefit. Some of that isn’t even so much that they don’t have the money. They’re just this group of people that is used to ballot stuff. They are just completely not used to doing mail and phones because there was never really any value to it.


C&E: Then you run into the California problem again, where ballot issues are king.


Allen: Especially ballot issues that have non-stan- dard constituents.


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