Are Get Out The Vote Strategies Creepy? Does It Matter?
I agree with Tim Carney about so many things that a recent blog post of his really stuck out at me. He writes:
It’s pretty impressive when you read about the sophistication of the Obama campaign. This New York Times article, this Washington Post article, and a handful of others, show how the campaign used social science, and data on individual and group behavior to figure out how to best coax people into voting and donating to Obama.
Impressive, for sure.
But take a step back, abstract from Obama, from party, from the coolness reputation they have. Think about this way:
People in power spending millions for the science and the personal data that help them maximize their ability to sway personal opinion so as to preserve their power.
Should we be creeped out by this? Or by what the Obama administration will do with this approach?
In today's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes about "Barack Obama's Persuasion Army: The president has finally made the permanent campaign a reality":
The Obama "turnout machine" wasn't faceless. It was real people living full-time, some much of the past four years, in battleground states such as Ohio, Iowa and Virginia. They attended full-time to targeted racial, ethnic and labor constituencies, as the campaign did in 2008. Obama adviser David Plouffe calls them "the persuasion army." I would call it a skilled propaganda machine.
Not everyone on the right side of the aisle is so negative. Our own Adam Schaeffer has been sounding the alarm about how the GOP is far behind the Democrats when it comes to Get Out The Vote Psychology.
Back when I was doing campaigns -- many moons ago -- I was trained in political technology. This stuff was basic. What you were telling voters with your campaign materials in terms of their design and color scheme. How to collect good information on voters and how to distribute that information. How to get donors to pony up their dollars or their votes via effective direct mail or through creative pitches. One of my favorites was to have college students write notes to their grandparents about how they needed to vote.
I learned how to recognize which donors or supporters could be cultivated for more involvement.
For the life of me, I don't see how these new data collection and experiment efforts are terribly different from what we've always done in campaigns except that they have the potential to be much more effective.
I mean, all politics is about persuasion. Why not use technology or research that is more effective? I feel like the right is talking about how the only honorable way to fight is as the Redcoats do, not as the dastardly Continental Army does.
I've been getting into fights with various right-of-center folks about this. Some think the technology provides everyone an awesome way of reaching voters and getting them to vote and that, besides, conservatives are doomed if they don't start trying to catch up with the other side, which is light years ahead in its use. Some think the technology is ethically neutral and that it's up to candidates and party folks to use it ethically or not. Others ask the questions Carney is asking or say it's frighteningly manipulative. I know that we've started hashing this out a bit in some previous threads of Adam's.
But I want to ask the question on my own. What's the big problem with saying to someone, "Neighbor Lucinda, from publicly available records, we see you take your voting seriously. Can we count on you to lead the charge again on November 2?" Or, "John, from publicly available records, we know that you vote in every presidential election. But this special mid-term election is very important. We could really use this special effort to get your vote this time."
What's so creepy about that? Is the beef that this information is publicly available? How is that a campaign's fault? I wish addresses weren't so publicly available but I don't get mad when campaigns send me glossy mailers.
One view is that this merely adapts to politics the private sector's advanced marketing techniques, and that the GOP should do the same. If the party can overcome its Keystone Kops primary system, sure, go for it. But if the Republican Party uses high-velocity information the way the Obama campaign did, American politics will be waged as a wall-to-wall propaganda war. Policy ideas will be devalued.
I just don't get this line of attack. For one thing, there is no reason that effective marketing and policy ideas are inherently at odds. In fact, I actually think that the GOP's comparative advantage is not in dividing and conquering various minority groups but, rather, figuring out how to market complex policy ideas in ways that are friendly to various target groups and getting those groups to vote.
Again, though, what's the alternative? These naysayers seem to be saying that the GOP should simply throw in the towel and continue with ineffective strategies. How can that be better for the policy prescriptions of the GOP than updating the technology?