'Microtargeting' Lets Pols Turn Data Into Votes

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It's not the first time that Romney, who has declared his love for data, has employed micro-targeting. In 2002, he won his 2002 race for governor of Massachusetts after he bought the list of HBO subscribers and tried to win them over.

"There's nothing about watching 'The Sopranos' that makes you more likely to vote for Mitt Romney, but it was a very good way of finding sort of upscale, suburban voters who were his target audience," Issenberg said.

An even smaller niche target is Minnesota beet farmers, whom George W. Bush went after in 2000, sending them a mailer that documented his support for an agricultural policy important to them.

"This wasn't something he talked about in the debates. It wasn't something they ever ran an ad about. But for tens of thousands of people in this one state he was trying to win, they got to the issue that those people cared about most," Issenberg said.

There's no evidence to show definitely that these tactics alone put candidates over the finish line. According to Issenberg, the single biggest clue to how you'll vote isn't what beer you drink but whether you're a registered Democrat or Republican.

But the small gains from small targets can add up and be significant, he said. A powerful tool, but one that should be used judiciously, Issenberg warned.

"The campaigns, even though they know they have the tools to really target specific messages to voters, are also aware that the costs of getting caught doing it, if they contradict themselves, are high."
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