On Friday, streaming music service Pandora announced that it will begin accepting political ads. The ads will target voters based on the ZIP code entered at registration.
This could not have been a hard decision for the company. Citizens United has ensured that an already money-soaked process will see bushels more donors looking to invest where they can. Earlier this month, the Times noted that the river of cash is reshaping local TV news, spurring consolidations intended to streamline cash intake before 2012 gets into full swing. In 2008, the McCain and Obama campaigns spent a combined $370 million on TV ads; that total will certainly go up next year.
The goal of a modern political campaign is simply articulated, if complex in practice: delivering a particular message to a particular voter. It's microtargeting: fracturing the pool of voters into pieces that can be pitched precisely. Nearly every financial decision is made with this in mind: how can we deliver the best possible message to the best possible voter at the lowest possible cost?
The process works as follows, at least for a race above a certain budget. A poll is commissioned, revealing existing bases of support and messages that resonate for particular populations. Talking about your candidate's work on the school board is popular with Asian women, say, while her opposition to gun control legislation appeals to white men in the suburbs. This knowledge, combined with public data about voters, lets campaigns do two things: try and increase the number of supporters who come out to vote, and convince likely voters to vote for their candidate.