Seeing how privacy has been thrown completely out the window in the recent decade, campaign teams gladly collect a colossal amount of personal information. This can be done through a market research agency, like Nielsen, whose slogan is: Nielsen knows what people watch, listen to and buy. Not creepy at all. Or data can be collected through Google Analytics, a software program that can “bug” a certain webpage so that whenever someone accesses that URL, you can track other webpages they visit afterward.
So you are probably wondering how all of this may be able to help a politician when campaigning. You see, certain demographics vote for a certain type of political figure. If you are a white, straight, and rich Christian male who lives in the suburbs and owns a firearm, you will probably have different political views compared to an Arabian, lesbian, and poor female who lives in the city and makes a living as a graphic designer. Obviously, politicians and their campaign teams know that a person’s demographics and hobbies are a huge factor in determining their worldview. They do not care about the people who they know will absolutely vote for them and those who definitely will not. Bernie Sanders did not have to pander to socialists and Donald Trump didn’t have to beg nationalists to vote for him because their basic platform already supported these worldviews.
Demographics that typically have a large pool of undecided voters are the groups that campaign teams target. And if you happen to have the qualities of an undecided voter, be prepared; they will spam your email, knock on your door, send you lovely pieces of junk mail, and target ads towards you. With programs that can analyze heaps of personal information found online, political campaign teams can find these potential undecided voters much more easily than in the past. For example, let’s say the mayoral election is coming up. Rebecca is a young black woman who lives in Philadelphia. Based off of that information alone, she would probably be a Democrat. But, based on information gained from HTML cookies, the campaign team for a Republican candidate thinks that she may be open to voting for a Republican. They saw that Rebecca regularly visits her church website and that she liked a pro-life advocate’s Facebook page. Although a shallow look at her demographics may paint her as a Democrat, her beliefs seem to lie with the Republican party. Since Rebecca has contradictory traits, her name will effectively be put on a list of potential undecided voters. Initially, she would have voted Democrat because she liked what the incumbent mayor did during his run, however, after seeing advertisements for the new Republican candidate, she felt that his views were much more aligned with hers. Thus, she votes Republican.
That is the power of using technology for political campaigns. Prior to the introduction of software programs that can analyze large amounts of data and track consumer movement online, there was no real way for political campaign teams to determine the exact interests, beliefs, and demographics of certain voters. The only way they could obtain that information is if you directly gave it to them. If this mayoral election were to have occurred in the 80s, then the Republican team would have written off Rebecca as a Democrat, even though it turns out that with a little bit of persuasion, she would actually be a Republican.
It has been shown over and over...and over again that undecided voters decide the outcomes of elections. Marketing firms quickly realized that even though American’s care a lot about their privacy, they could just exploit surveillance laws to gather loads of information about every single person, and then sell it to desperate political campaign staff who really want people to vote for their candidate. These campaign teams can then determine who is probably on the fence about who to vote for, and then shove every single ad down their throats. There is an incredible documentary about the marketing teams for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during the 2012 election that provides a lot of detailed information. Needless to say, without technology, we would see a lot less political ads. America, land of the advertisement and home of the Annoying Orange.