Candidates know more about you than you think

Candidates in Ohio’s hot U.S. Senate race know the issues that matter to you and how to reach out to you for your vote.


ELECTION COVERAGE

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You may not know much about Rob Portman or Ted Strickland yet, but chances are, their campaigns know about you.

Thanks to increasingly sophisticated methods of using data to categorize and target voters, their campaigns are having individual conversations with selectively targeted voters.

Campaigning is a courtship, and each campaign is aiming to be something close to the online dating site eharmony.com: They want to know as much as possible to ensure that they are compatible with coveted swing voters.

It’s under that premise that both campaigns are working with data analysis companies in order to figure out how best to connect with those voters.

“Our data and field operation is focused on winning people in the middle.” said Portman campaign manager Corry Bliss.

Bliss said the data research efforts are targeted at wooing those who don’t vote in primaries.

“The greatest TV ad, the greatest message in the world shown to the wrong people is nothing but a waste of money,” he said.

For example: Portman’s campaign this weekend (Saturday) hosted a “Super Saturday” event aimed at targeting voters. When campaign volunteers knock on doors, they’ll ask a series of questions that will help the campaign determine how best to connect with that voter. All of that information will get logged into iPads or iPhones so that the database of voters and their interests are continuously updated in real time. Those making calls at phone banks log information similarly.

But they didn’t go into those conversations blindly. Instead, they first gleaned information about the voter through predictive modeling done by I360, a Herndon, Va.-based company that does data analytics using information on everything from voter rolls to Internet shopping information.

Some of that targeting is geographic: In Toledo, for example, voters will receive information about Portman’s work on toxic algae and the Great Lakes. In southeast Ohio, voters will receive information about his stance on coal.

Voters who signal that abortion is their top issue will receive literature on that topic. National security voters will get different material.

The research extends to their television ad buys: They know, for example, that a certain group of voters watches “Love it or List It” in one part of the state, but that same group watches “Property Brothers” in another corner.

And it extends to online ad buys: One of the first online ads the Portman campaign purchased were geographically specific ads pointing out which cities had lost jobs when Strickland was governor. Voters in southern Ohio, for example, were reminded online that DHL moved out of Wilmington during Strickland’s time in office.

Bliss ultimately envisions an environment where a voter can see a Portman ad on TV while seeing ads for Portman on his or her iPad. He said that 70 to 80 percent of the voters that they talk to personally can be found online, meaning they can be targeted at home and online

”The campaign does what companies do,” he said. “It’s what American Express does. It’s what Coca Cola does.”

Michael Palmer, president of I360 said Portman is one of the company’s most active Senate clients. While many of the company’s 2014 clients signed up three or four months before the election, Portman’s campaign signed up in early 2015 – a sign, Palmer said, that campaigns increasingly understand that this is a necessary way of determining how best to communicate with voters.

Palmer was the chief technology officer for Republican John McCain’s 2008 campaign in 2009. According to Politico, it is partly funded by the Koch Brothers, wealthy Republican donors.

They weren’t the first to use research, however: Republicans and Democrats agree that President Barack Obama revolutionized the use of data in 2008 and 2012. A Strickland spokesman said their campaign is still benefiting from the comprehensive data sets compiled by Obama’s campaign eight years ago.

“Without this, you’re kind of flipping coin,” Palmer said. The system, he adds, isn’t perfect, “but it’s way, way more accurate than flipping a coin.”

While Portman’s campaign is operating its own data operation, Strickland’s campaign is working hand-in-glove with the Clinton campaign to reach out to voters, according to those close to the campaign. They contract with NGP VAN, a Democratic firm.

Strickland, said one Democrat close to the campaign “is running a much more traditional coordinated campaign.” He is working both with Clinton’s organization and the Ohio Democratic Party to elect Democrats up and down the ticket. Because Clinton’s ground game in the state is stronger than Republican Donald Trump’s, “Ted doesn’t have to build a standalone apparatus,” the Democrat said. Beyond that, the research and outreach are similar.

“Unlike Senator Portman who is trying to build a data program from scratch with no help from the top of his ticket, the Strickland campaign and Democrats have been developing, utilizing and improving our analytics programs for several electoral cycles,” said David Bergstein, a Strickland spokesman.

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