The Corner

Politics & Policy

Sudden Cheers for the Cruz Campaign’s Big Data Analytics

I don’t doubt that the ability to collect reams of consumer data and social media information is proving useful to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. But their efforts are generating a breathless round of coverage…

Washington Post: Cruz campaign credits psychological data and analytics for its rising success

National Journal: Cruz’s Key to Success: Big Data

Guardian: Ted Cruz using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users

The Post gives a sense of how the Cruz camp is using the data to tailoring their pitch to potential supporters:

An email will be tweaked based on the personality of the recipient. If a respondent were a “stoic traditionalist,” the conversation would be very direct and to the point. If a potential supporter was labeled “temperamental,” the language and approach would change, according to Chris Wilson, the campaign’s director of research and analytics, who has taken a leave from the polling firm he leads, WPA Opinion Research. “The tone would be inspiring and become more and more positive as the conversation progresses,” he said.

But this is just more-advanced version of micro-targeting, which has been developed and refined in every cycle since at least 2004: look through consumer research and other data to find people who are likely to support your candidate but don’t already, and reach out to them — through mailers, phone calls, e-mails, social media, and personal contact. 

TargetPoint, one of the GOP firms that specializes in the data accumulation and analysis, tried to explain it’s not quite as simple as the media coverage suggests:

Yes, the car you drive and the coffee you drink may have something to do with how you vote, but what if that SUV you drive is hybrid? What if the driver is a married man living in Sioux Falls? What if that Starbucks drinker is sipping in an evangelical coffee house? What if this bible-reader also belongs to Greenpeace? How does the aggregate effect of each data point increase or decrease the likelihood a voter will support your side?

Microtargeting begins with this basic assumption: that no single data point can tell you the whole story. Survey research that focuses on crosstabs such as income, gender, race and other demographics only provide a fraction of the story. Looking at the interaction between the various data provides a far more detailed look at your voters.

By using hundreds of data points, comprised of voter information, life cycle information, life style information, financial data, consumer behavior, geographic data, and political attitudes and preferences, microtargeting can be used to segment each of your voters into one of a number of mutually exclusive groups, each defined by a unique combination of a host of data points.

The ideal of micro-targeting is that you find the supporter who otherwise wouldn’t have been contacted — the staunch conservative living in a yuppie progressive neighborhood — or you find people who are soft, unreliable supporters and manage to bring them to the polls. The Cruz campaign is singing the praises of this program,  and the anecdotes sure make the data analysis sound good…

Last week, Cruz volunteers in Iowa were calling people identified as extraverts to be precinct captains and take on other leadership roles. Stinemetz went through his call list one evening and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly people signed up. “I got three precinct captains to sign up just now,” Stinemetz said, after dialing just a handful of potential volunteers. “It’s like they were just waiting for us to call.”

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. If Cruz has a terrible debate this week, get hammered with negative ads, and have a slew of gaffes in the final days before Iowa, can micro-targeting overcome those factors? How many percentage points is a good data operation worth on Election Day?

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