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Candidates Write Off Apathetic Voters, Target True Believers

To be sure the best voters show up this year — and to do it at the best price — political candidates are limiting their use of broad techniques such as television and instead using sophisticated target marketing techniques and enhanced direct mail lists.

Campaigners say this will let them reach the people who will most likely vote, and who will most likely be their secret weapons, especially since analysts predict nearly two-thirds of people 18 or older won't vote on Election Day.

“This year, there is particular interest surrounding voter turnout,” said Hal Malchow of Crounse & Malchow, Washington, a voter persuasion mail company. “Voters are happy, the economy is great, welfare is down, we have a budget surplus, crime is falling. In this sort of mood, there is not a lot to motivate the voter to go to the polls.”

Republicans and Democrats alike are preparing for a low turnout by directing their strategies to motivate their base voters. Indeed, a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal said both Steve Owens, a Democrat running for Congress in Arizona, and Paul Ryan, a Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin, are using highly targeted campaigns with direct mail components to reach the voters they think will turn out.

Malchow said this is the first year that campaigners and their voting service companies are using sophisticated database marketing techniques — such as regression analysis — to predict voter turnout at the individual level. Susan Burnside, a political consultant who specializes in voter turnout programs with Burnside & Associates, Los Angeles, also has seen a great deal of growth in the targeting methods. While candidates are always using partisan lists to hone in on the best voters, lists are much more sophisticated and contain more detailed data.

“They have more voter history within them, such as enhanced phone matches, and very detailed household information — like the fact that the woman in the household is a Democrat and the man is a Republican,” Burnside said. “The skill level of the campaigners and the services they use has gone up.”

To reach the best voters, Malchow's company has created a logistic regression model that measures turnout probabilities, thereby letting companies use database marketing to predict which voters will respond to their campaigns. In essence, these database systems let campaigners identify voters with the highest probability to be influenced by a mail piece, similar to techniques that businesses use to find their best customers.

Before, he said, campaigners would “sit around a table and ask, 'Who are we going to target in terms of who is likely to vote?' The argument would be between the person who wanted to reach everybody vs. other people who said, 'Let's take people who voted two out of the last four elections or three out of the last four.' Then, some sort of arbitrary formula would be decided upon based on the best guess, but not based on any data.”

Burnside said that while companies are taking the data in-house, they also are using voter files and database companies such as Voter Contact Service, Santa Clara, CA, which offers enhance services such as adding assessor matches and secondary phone matches to the file.

“These lists help candidates target individual people instead of precincts,” she said. “The old-fashioned way is to take a precinct, see how they voted in prior elections and then do all of their targeting based on this. With the new voter lists, you can do it down to each individual voter.”

Burnside said these techniques helped the candidate she was working for, Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat from California, win a special election in March to succeed her late husband, Walter Capps.

Most list companies haven't started feeling the heat yet — many campaigners still are waiting for the primaries to end — but they are gearing up for what will be a busy campaign season come August.

American List Counsel, Princeton, NJ, is even offering an enhanced list called the Progressive Donor Master File within the next week, which contains names and addresses of people who responded to candidate's past campaigns and/or progressive political causes, enhanced with demographic and psychographic data.

“We are introducing this list now so that we will be able to help voters find a more targeted group of politically motivated people,” said Pam Finnegan, senior account group manager at ALC. “They have less money in their budgets and they want to get very targeted in their mailing.”

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