Political campaigns have fundamentally changed. The New Politics delivers votes far more effectively than the Old Politics ever did. This New Politics affects everyone from the voters themselves, to the candidates, to the volunteers to the consultants and campaign managers.
What is so new? Micro-targeting of voters. Think of Old Politics as the Rust Belt. The Old Political machine was an assembly line operation that sold the average politician to the average voter. The New Political machine is more like a high-tech search engine. The New Political campaign tailors a politician’s message for each voter much the same way online advertisements are selected to match your interests.
A search engine gives the user a list of choices in response to their list of search terms. You may not realize it, but the search engine also records the website you select from the list it offers. The search engine doesn’t really know what you are looking for: after all, it is just a bunch of well-trained electrons. But it knows exactly how you and people like you chose in the past.
Clever political programmers can use the same selection process to offer voters the exact political issues they want to see from a candidate. The tricky part of selling you a new politician is to find out the kind of politician you want to buy. What political positions do you want and which positions will ruin the sale? A political campaign can learn about you by performing a survey or buying survey results from social media and search engine sites. For instance, a modern political survey might ask only for your e-mail address, and look like this:
In order to serve you better, how should our candidate vote on these issues?
(list of issues)
Your answers tell the political organization a lot about you. Most importantly, the organization knows if you’re one of the malleable middle voters they want to target in their campaign. They will also know to ignore you if you don’t vote, or if you’re one of the party faithful, either left or right. If you are committed to their issues, they will ask you for money and time, since they still need both money and volunteers.
After the political search engine has identified you as one of their swing voters, the New Politics selects the right message. The campaign designs a political message aimed right at you! If you like God then they will claim their candidate goes to church every week. If you want a fiscally conservative government, then they will claim their candidate pinches pennies and the opposition candidate spends money like a, well, like a progressive politician. They craft a different story for each block of voters.
You divulge your political preferences every day. You divulge your interests each time you click on a news story. You give away information when you register to vote or register for Obamacare with partisan “non-profit” groups funded by political kickbacks. The New Political campaign learns from your “Likes” on Facebook and the opinions you register on political sites like PopVox. Every website captures your visits. You leave a trail of interests and opinions that stretches back a million clicks.
So, the New Politics can know much more about you than “liberal equals larger government” and “conservative equals lower taxes.” They know if you’d rather listen to northern blondes or southern brunettes, pink skinned spokesmen or browned skinned spokeswomen. They know whether to talk to you about immigration and ignore health care, or vice versa. They know if you’ll make donations or work in a phone bank.
Targeted political campaigns are many times more effective than simply calling potential voters based on party registration. That difference decides who wins and who looses elections. These information based political techniques are designed with the low information voter in mind. These techniques elected Barack Obama and other “Progressive” candidates from coast to coast. Some savvy conservatives realize this.
Niche campaigns fail when a well defined issue confronts the electorate. Three Colorado State Senators were recently recalled or forced from office after the electorate focused on key votes that did not represent their views. The micro marketing failed when the voters labeled the candidates rather than the candidates choosing the labels they wanted to present to each voter. In the case of the Colorado recall, the recall campaign focused on an unpopular vote, ignoring citizen input, and taking a superior attitude toward the voters.
That combination has proved disastrous for any candidate and any party.
Image: Courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5487685080/