In politics, over the last decade, the Republican Party virtually ceded a technological monopoly to Democrats, foolishly blinding the GOP to tens of millions of potential voters. Until now.
A review of the RNC's targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.
A few Democrats saw this coming. "Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. "Their electorate doesn't look like ours, so we don't recognize or respect what they're doing."
First, some background. Ten years ago, it was the Republican Party that introduced Washington to the micro-targeting tactics long used by U.S. corporations and mega-churches. Facing a tough reelection campaign, President Bush's team expanded the pool of GOP voters and revolutionized the science of politics. (In 2006, I co-authored a book with Bush's targeting guru, Matthew Dowd, describing the targeting operation.)
The Bush squad started with government-run lists of registered voters: their names, ages, addresses, and voting histories. Over time, those lists had been enhanced with the purchase of additional political information, such as the membership rosters of advocacy groups.
Bush's team sent the RNC list to a data-mining firm called Acxiom, which had purchased consumer information from credit card companies, cruise lines, airlines, retails stores, and scores of other places where people did business. Acxiom cross-referenced the Bush team's voter lists against its own list of consumers.
The Bush team never had access to raw consumer data, but it had all it needed: a mega-list from Acxiom showing the stage in life (age, marital status, number of children, etc.) and lifestyles (hunter, biker, home renter, level of religious interest, etc.) of each voter, drawn from a menu of more than 400 separate categories.
Next, the Bush team called 5,000 people from that Acxiom list and asked them a series of questions to determine their political behavior and attitudes, as well as specific issues that made them angry.
Finally, those results were run through a computer program that grouped the 5,000 voters into 30 or so segments, each consisting of people who shared political and lifestyle traits; think of them as a virtual community.
Then every other voter "“ tens of millions of them "“ was assigned to one of the segments that fit based on the lifestyle and political habits he or she shared with those surveyed and already placed into groups.
It worked. But the GOP let its operation ossify while Democrats leapfrogged the Republicans in 2008, when Barack Obama's team harnessed rapidly advancing technologies to amplify his message. Those gains were multiplied in Obama's 2012 reelection, after which Priebus vowed to get the RNC back in the game.