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.

  1. david foster

    Nothing wrong with using effective marketing in political campaigns; it’s essential if we want to survive.

    Much of the political direct mail I get (during peak season, probably 10 pounds a week), which is almost all from Republican/conservative/libertarian candidates & organizations, is so bad it’s embarrassing. A typical piece says on the envelope something like “Confidential Secret Information Enclosed!,” or “Essential Voter Survey, Your Personal Identification Number for Audit is #4342434324.” Generally, things like this go straight into the trash; if you open it, you will see a 9-page rambling document, filled with repetitive denunciations of “liberals”…not much use if you’re preaching to the converted, and of even less use if you’re preaching to the unconverted. Most of this stuff is just pathetic from a marketing standpoint.

    More on this topic later.

  2. Robert Dammers

    I think your points are fair, Molly.  I’ve just come from a team meeting at which one of my US colleagues was presenting the role of “Big Data” techniques in the Obama campaign (as an example of using technology to understand and influence customers).  I found myself biting back words at various times:  the use of different “senders” and topics of email, was measured in terms of the efficacy in terms of getting small donations (regularly requested), or volunteers for action.  Messages were honed in terms of response (which is why some of those egregiously dishonest themes were used – the base had been demonstrated to respond to them).

    I had two really pressing thoughts: firstly, that Republicans cannot risk being outplayed technically like this again.  And secondly, if the Democrats had been half as evidence-based in policy making, and as organised in governing as they were in campaigning, they would have thoroughly deserved the victory.

  3. DrewInWisconsin

    I read that Henninger piece this morning, and the only conclusion I could come to is “So, when we refer to Obama supporters as ‘cult-like,’ we probably should drop the ‘like’ part of that.”

    It’s not going to be enough to match the Democrats in their ability to turn a campaign into a religious crusade (if, in fact, that’s what we want to do), we’re also going to have to spend a lot of energy into mass deprogramming of the cult members.

  4. david foster

    Market segmentation is key in any marketing campaign, and in our case, the segments should be based on identifiable strong interests/values that are being violated by Obama and the “progressive” Left. For example: people with kids living in (usually but not always urban) areas with really bad schools should be addressed with targeted campaigns emphasizing the complicity of the Democrats in the destruction and continued dysfunctionality of the public schools. People who are sports car drivers should be addressed with campaigns focusing on the Left’s hostility toward the freedom enabled by the automobile. People running homecrafting businesses should be reminded of the threat to their livelihood represented by certain Dem-supported regulations, such as the CPSIA. And so on.

  5. Group Captain Mandrake
    Mollie Hemingway

    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 can’t seen any alternative to making sure the GOP is not outplayed next time.  Even if the Democratic vote strategy was only partly responsible for their victory at a time when they had virtually nothing positive to recommend them to the voters, I have to think that the strategy will be far more successful in the future, particularly if the Democrats have managed by then to accrue some positive achievements.

  6. Spin

    It’s why everyone should buy a Mac.

  7. TheRoyalFamily

    I think the thing that makes this creepy to people is that they don’t realize that there are publicly-available records of their personal voting history in the first place. If they don’t know that, they wouldn’t know just how deep those records go – do they just say that I voted, or do they say who/what I voted for?

    With the expectations of privacy we have (it’s a constitutional right, after all), especially concerning confidential or secret things like the ballot, it can be jarring to think that this is a matter of public record that just anyone can look up.

  8. KC Mulville

    What’s wrong? It puts the cart before the horse.

    • In the American utopia, voters shape the government.

    • Under this reality, the government shapes the people.

    Think about the concept of a “mandate.” The whole point of a mandate is that two candidates offer themselves to the people. Once the people choose between them, the winner claims a mandate because that’s what the people want. The logic behind a mandate is that the people want something, and the election simply reveals what they want.

    But when you use marketing to manufacture their wants, it defeats the credibility. It’s like a cop planting a gun and then accusing the suspect of having a gun -  yes, because the cop put it there! In the same way, it’s creepy that a “propaganda army” will be used to manufacture what the people supposedly want.

    Yes, I know that’s the reality we have to deal with. Yes I know that’s always been true. Yes, I know that it’s the fault of the empty-headed public who allow ourselves to be manipulated. But when marketing techniques manufacture public opinion instead of discover it, the system is dysfunctional.

  9. Trink

    @Mollie and Group Captain,

    Perfect metaphor.  Perfect.

    Group Captain Mandrake

    Mollie Hemingway

    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 can’t seen any alternative to making sure the GOP is not outplayed next time. 

  10. david foster

    There’s a good 1964 novel by Eugene Burdick, “The 480,” in which a group of social scientists–aided by the mighty IBM 7094 computer!–elect a long-shot candidate to the presidency. The title of the book refers to the categories used by a real corporation, Simulmatics, which advised JFK in the 1960 campaign. (The company was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool.) Apparently, they advised Kennedy that “he would benefit from a strong civil rights stand and that he had nothing to lose, and much to gain, by attacking religious bigotry and dealing frankly with his Catholicism.”

    The book is actually very well-written, with good character development.

  11. Fredösphere

    The American people are the ultimate arbiters. It’s good that the rock has been overturned and we can have a look at what the Obama campaign has been up too.

    We should watch carefully for the backlash from the public, and then, if it does not materialize (as I expect it won’t) we’ll have no choice but to create our own propaganda machine.

  12. Misthiocracy

    Abraham Lincoln owed his electoral success to sophisticated, some might even say “creepy”, GOTV strategies.

    The earliest manuals on how to implement what we call GOTV are Abraham Lincoln’s instructions to his supporters when he was still a Whig.

    Pretty much every GOTV class I’ve ever sat in on used quotes from Lincoln as part of the course material.

    I don’t have the actual quotes at my fingertips (I don’t have my collection of campaign manuals and course hand-outs on me), but it basically boiled down to:

    1. Make a detailed, precise, and exact list of all the Whigs in your district.

    2. Keep that list up-to-date, at all times.
    3. On election day, ensure that every single name on that list gets to the polls.

    The instructions do not give many instructions on how to create these lists, or how to get the Whigs to the polls on election day. If Lincoln considered some GOTV tactics to be unethical, he didn’t mention them.

    If we assume that Lincoln’s opponents didn’t have nearly as sophisticated GOTV system, could we not say that, theoretically, Lincoln’s success was due to organization rather than popularity?

  13. drlorentz
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.:

    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.”

    If someone came to my door with that kind of pitch, the door would be slammed in his or her face. Creepy? Yeah, you bet it’s creepy.

    I question the premise that this strategy is effective. Perhaps it is with some folks, but it could easily alienate others. Maybe it just works well with liberals, and conservatives need to tailor their strategy to their constituency. It strikes me as an approach that appeals to the collectivist mentality.

  14. Misthiocracy
    david foster: Much of the political direct mail I get, which is almost all from Republican/conservative/libertarian candidates & organizations, is so bad it’s embarrassing. 

    Remember, direct mail is designed to evoke a reaction even when the recipient doesn’t bother to open it up and read it.

    When I design mailers for politicians, the part I spend the most time on is the top fold of the front page.

    That small portion of the mailer is the only part that is seen by the vast majority of people who immediately transport the piece from the mailbox directly to the garbage can.  I assume I have fewer than 10 seconds to convey a message.

    That message will be some combination of the best photo of the candidate I can get and/or a very concise slogan.

    However, most important is the candidate’s name as it will appear on the ballot.

    Half the battle is name recognition. If I can get you to remember my candidate’s name, I’ve earned my fee.

    As for the interior, often “bad works”. I’ve found that the pieces which generate the most complaints also (sometimes) generate the best outcomes.

  15. Misthiocracy
    Ken Owsley: It’s why everyone should buy a Mac.

    That is, until Apple scraps Darwin and Open Source from the Macintosh completely.

    Or, more likely, Apple simply abandons the Macintosh and focuses permanently on iOS and “closed ecosystem” portable devices.

    This is why I’ll keep my Snow Leopard Mac Mini going for as long as I can. When it dies, it’ll mean a permanent switch to Linux.

    But this is clearly the wrong thread for this discussion…


  16. Freddy Clayton

    I do not begrudge or fear any group – whether a company selling a product or a campaign selling a candidate – making targeted offers to any prospect, including me. All the offers can do is notify me of the opportunity and encourage me to respond by buying the product or working for, contributing to, or voting for the candidate. My real concern is the certainty that now, for the first time, data pertaining to other voters and me are available to and used by groups supporting not only candidates running for office but also office-holders with real power and discretionary authority over me. Recognizing that politicians are like the rest of us (well, actually worse), I am very concerned they will succumb to the temptation to abuse that power in pursuit of their own interests. Formerly, when elections ended, most of the political apparatus wound down. Now, however, as Henninger makes clear in his column, Obama’s Persuasion Army will continue to operate, and his administration will have myriad opportunities and incentives to use all those data and techniques to identify supporters and adversaries and reward or punish them appropriately. It is very worrisome.

  17. Misthiocracy
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.:

    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.

    Are you suggesting that the Continental Army never acted dishonorably, or that their tactics could never be considered “unethical”?

    Heck, by the standards of the day the Continentals’ penchant from firing from behind cover and wearing camouflage was considered an outrageous violation of the rules of civilized warfare, and that’s before we get to stuff like tarring and feathering Loyalists and burning down their farms.

    (In a similar vein, though it was a different war, how many Northern cities did the Confederacy burn to the ground?)

    I’m just sayin’, Republicans probably shouldn’t take knives to a gun fight.

    If you don’t think the Conservative Party of Canada will be studying Obama’s strategy and tactics for the next two years, and implementing as much of it in 2015 as legally possible under our different election laws, you’d be dreaming.

  18. Rachel Lu

    If anyone ever calls me “Neighbor Rachel”, I’ll be certain they’re trying to get me to join a cult. Which, in the case of Obama supporters, would pretty much be true.

    I do think these developments are quite unfortunate, the main reason being that they massively increase political parties’ power to manipulate. It would be far better to have a smaller number of voters, but to have those voters be the people who took the initiative to research the issues and make up their minds. When parties are spurring the less-enthusiastic into voting with personally tailored messages, that’s going to increase the (already lamentable) tendency of democratic government to disintegrate into a juggling act between a million tiny interest groups. It would be far better if we could all keep our eyes on the much more honorable goal of achieving the common good.

    But do we have a choice at this point? Probably not.

  19. Mantis9

    Yes, its creepy, but in an “end justify the means” sorta way. 

    Conservatives keep looking for the next Reagan because of his genius as a communicator (alternately, liberals call propagandist) backed conservative principles. Persuasion + Principles = Election Victory.  The virtue of conservative principles, which we mistakenly believed was implied in “Principles”, is empirically provable results and a necessary goodness. 

    I’m sure liberals believe their principles effective and righteous (really, when do we not hear that from “progressives”), but they haven’t been so proven. 

    So, the question for me, at least, isn’t should or shouldn’t the GOP use the social science of persuasion, but how to do it effectively and ethically. 

    This rhetorical war of persuasion has raged since Socrates and Plato. How did they combat their sophistry? With persuasion backed by principle. So should we.

  20. Devereaux
    KC Mulville:

    But when you use marketing tomanufacturetheir wants, it defeats the credibility. It’s like a cop planting a gun and then accusing the suspect of having a gun -  yes, because the cop put it there! In the same way, it’s creepy that a “propaganda army” will be used to manufacture what the people supposedly want.

    Edited 17 minutes ago

    Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes. (from Widipedia)

    Propaganda has a pejorative connotation, but isn’t that basically what any political platform does. ?Are we really reporting unbiased factual positions, with the positive and negative on both sides.

    We are stating our positions. We are trying to persuade others to agree with us. Goodness knows there must be SOME good on the other side, but that isn’t what we talk about. It is why WE are the ones to pick.

    Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

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