12.1 C
Byron Shire
July 5, 2022

In the US election, Big Brother really is watching you

Latest News

Taqueria in Byron celebrates four years

Chupacabra Mexican restaurant in Suffolk Park is turning four this week! Through the ups and downs of the past...

Other News

A poem

Row upon row Lest we forget the rows of trees they planted to recall the rows of boys they sent to die in the war Jon...

Labor mulls over the future of persecuted whistleblower and his lawyer, Collaery

While jailed Australian citizen and journalist, Julian Assange, waits for the new Labor government to act on his behalf with US extradition orders from the UK, another whistleblower and his lawyer face court behind closed doors on Australian soil.

Sport and gender

Olympic golden girl Cate Campbell claims to have wrestled long and hard with herself before passionately promoting a ban...

Council advertising

Thanks Council, for the advertisement on page 5 letting us know that you co-hosted a conference. It is good...

Man charged following break and enter – Casino

A man has been charged following an investigation into an alleged break and enter at Casino.

Main Arm Upper school are excited to be going ‘back to school’

It has been hard for many young people as they have managed the impacts of COVID over the last few years but for students at Main Arm Upper Public School the flood has meant they've been out of their school for almost half a year.

Ben Winsor

The ‘get out the vote’ effort in the US is massive, turning otherwise healthy political parties into quite sophisticated stalkers. Both parties now compete to maintain minutely detailed files on every voter in the country.

At the most basic level, they detail likelihood of voting and which direction they’ll cast their ballot. On election day, this targets the efforts of thousands of volunteers who will be making phone calls and knocking doors to drag out every last supportive vote.

While these databases were originally primarily used for ‘get out the vote’ efforts, now knowing whom someone is leaning towards is no longer enough – strategists have to know why.

Details stored now go well beyond name, age and party affiliation. Databases track voting histories, levels of disposable income, the type of car someone drives and even the kinds of foods they prefer. Computer algorithms scan names to tag likely religions and ethnicities, separating the Smiths from the Goldbergs and Martinos.

Information pulled from public records is used to establish a voter’s names, age, addresses and phone number. But records also show voting histories, so we know whether you voted in the primaries, for the school board, or whether you only show up occasionally in presidential years. Other archives can show what car you have registered and how many guns you own.

This can help build up pictures of households, so we know if your kids are still in school, off to college, or whether you’re looking after elderly parents. Overlaid with this is information from commercial data miners, who can provide lists of magazine subscriptions, personal interests and levels of disposable income.

The campaigns themselves will then add further information. In the months before an election, armies of volunteers call voters and knock on doors. After each encounter, the volunteer will estimate a person’s level of support and enthusiasm, which will then be added to their file. There’s even a freely available iPhone app which provides the details of everyone registered near your location, with fields for volunteers to upload further information after contact.

Campaign websites will ask voters to login through Facebook, or sign up to email lists, providing even more information for the databases. If you go on to sign an online pledge for a specific cause, from gun rights to women’s rights, your file will be tagged with the issues you care about. If you’ve made donations, or clicked on links from campaign emails, this will also be tracked. Your level of motivation and the type of messaging you respond to will be marked in your file.

Recently, the Democratic campaign asked supporters to write messages online about why they supported Barack Obama – more information that can be scanned for key words to build up even more comprehensive files.

The databases themselves are provided by two partisan companies. The National Geopolitical Voter Activation Network supports the Democrats, while Republicans use Voter Vault. Each company sells access to party committees, advocacy groups and candidates running for office up and down the ticket. Whether you’re running for POTUS, or your kid’s local school board, the data goldmine is only a licence fee away.

It’s these companies who are reaping the benefits of a nation that has turned democracy into an industry. This year, the combined spending of presidential campaigns, congressional campaigns and the plethora of local and state elections will amount to well over $5.5 billion.

And with 50 states running in their own election cycles, Congress up for election every two years, and organisations constantly campaigning on ballot measures, there’s a steady stream of money and campaigns helping with data entry even outside of the presidential years.

This data can be powerful if used correctly. Not only can it build up general pictures of the electorate, it can also be used to send out narrowly targeted messaging that might otherwise be a waste of money, or actually lose votes if seen by the broader public.

The 2004 Bush campaign used information to create categories of voters to target messaging on, from ‘tax and terrorism moderates’ to unenthusiastic conservatives who could be persuaded by pro-life or anti-gay messaging. By 2008 the Democrats had caught up, with Barack Obama’s targeted grassroots campaign mobilising impressive voter turnout and motivating millions of non-voters not only to register, but to also show up at the polls.

With memories of the debates and conventions fading, a daily stream of inconsistent polls shows an almost manic-depressive and evenly split electorate, both nationally and in key swing states. All signs point to it being a close-run thing.

How effectively each campaign can motivate their base to get out and vote, especially in the battleground state of Ohio, will be a deciding factor over who wins the White House on November 6. This election, more than any other, could come down entirely to the quality of voter data, and the effectiveness of the ‘get out the vote’ efforts it powers.

*Ben Winsor is an Australian law and international studies graduate working with a New York political consulting firm assisting with a Democratic congressional campaign in New Jersey, and in his spare time volunteers for the Obama/Biden campaign. This article was first published in Crikey.

 


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Celebrating 40 years of Fig Tree Restaurant

It all started with a simple dream, to convert its original farmhouse in Ewingsdale into a restaurant in which its guests could gather to...

Crabbes Creek Woodfired

By V. Cosford There’s a contingent of Europeans who don’t mind travelling a considerable distance in order to stock up on Jon and Gina Hutton’s...

Stone & Wood’s Brewery Festival Returns

Stone & Wood are opening the gates to their Murwillumbah brewery with the return of their ‘Murbah Open Day’, on Saturday 6 August. Welcoming the...

Decades of volunteering earn prestigious NSW Sports Award

Brenda Zakaras and John Beasley from Lennox Head were two of 19 sports volunteers from a wide cross-section of sports who received a Distinguished...