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Campaign 2012: Mining for voters

Robert L. Mitchell | Oct. 30, 2012
Big data, analytics and mobile apps are enabling smaller political campaigns and advocacy groups to be more effective when it comes to winning over voters and raising money.

Mobile gains

Mobile is already changing the game, particularly in the area of door-to-door campaigning, where canvassers are increasingly taking advantage of mobile apps and the Square mobile payment service.

Square offers a small card reader that attaches to a smartphone, enabling the user to accept payments anywhere, at any time. Canvassers who use the device can take campaign donations right on voters' doorsteps.

As campaign volunteers go door to door, they might rely on mobile apps for customized messages about specific households. They could look at profiles that not only indicate whether an individual is a Republican or a Democrat, but also offer guidance about how much of a donation to ask for based on the person's past history of campaign donations. In addition, canvassers can use apps to capture details of interactions with voters and upload that information to the campaign database, thereby providing continuous, real-time feedback.

"The Obama campaign has taken it up a notch," says Engage's Ruffini. "They're recording what people say when they knock on doors. They make thousands of phone calls every night. They do text analysis, and then make decisions on TV and ad spending." (Obama for America did not return calls asking for comment.)

On the Republican side, mobile apps improve the efficiency of door-to-door campaigning, because they can tell canvassers exactly which doors to knock on in rural areas to reach the party faithful, independents and swing voters, says Hynes. Because Democrats tend to live in urban areas, Democratic campaign workers can be effective by canvassing entire neighborhoods. However, "Republicans live in the suburbs and exurbs, so it's been harder to go door to door," says Hynes, adding that mobile is helping to level the playing field.

Coming up, in part 2 of this story: Merging online and offline data, privacy issues and more.



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