Campaign data collection grows as latest election nears

Campaign data collection grows as latest election nears

PITTSBURGH — Finding ways to speak to voters directly has been a staple of presidential politics for more than a century, and what those campaigns know about you is growing rapidly.

“We have over 3,000 data points on every single voter in America, and our data is very micro-targeted,” said Michael Joyce, the regional communications director for the Republican National Committee. “When we speak to a voter at their door, depending on who answers the door, they might receive a different question.”

Since 2014, the RNC has invested $350 million in its data program.

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This information is used to connect with voters they feel are most likely to show up to the polls.

For example, Joyce said the campaign found that people who do yoga are more likely to keep a routine and show up to vote on Election Day.

Democrats are also finding as many ways as possible to connect with voters.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is doing everything from calling and texting potential voters to hosting virtual house parties.

The strategy has changed over the last several months, with the coronavirus pandemic limiting in-person interactions with voters.

“We’ve really gotten creative in how we’re doing things virtually. We actually see this in some cases as an opportunity,” said Aleigha Cavalier, the northeast states director for the Biden campaign.

Collecting data on voters is nothing new, but it has grown quickly since 2016.

University of Pittsburgh political science professor Kris Kanthak said people reveal data about themselves on a daily basis, often without realizing it.

Much of that data is put up for sale and bought by political campaigns and organizations.

Kanthak said political operatives are getting very good at using that information to target voters.

“The card that you get at the grocery store, the loyalty card, that is just for data. If you tell me how you shop, I can probably tell you how you’ll vote,” she said.

It’s a level of exposure that makes some voters uncomfortable but is unlikely to change.

“It’s not good, and I don’t like hearing that,” said Pitt student Zach Sweeny, who plans on voting in November.

Others, such as Melissa Gallo, see it as an unfortunate new reality.

“It’s been happening without our knowledge, and it’s not going to stop no matter how I feel about it,” she said.

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