Candidates Use Predictive Analytics to Seek Votes

As the primary race grinds on, the candidates are turning to predictive analytics tools to help find voters ready to support them.

A company called VisualCalc provides a free Web site that helps citizens analyze the presidential race through a series of dashboards that chart the status and trends of the primary election.

On the flip side, candidates in this year's historical race for the White House-for the first time a woman and a black man are vying for the Democratic Party nomination alongside a single presumptive Republican nominee-have similar tools to provide information that may help them attract those key undecided voters.

It's called microtargeting, and it's helping candidates like Sen. Barack Obama determine a number of basic but essential variables as his campaign moves from state to state and primary to primary, in a tooth-and-nail battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

The Obama campaign is working with Washington-based data analytics firm Strategic Telemetry-a company that cut its teeth building voter data models for Sen. John Kerry during the hard-fought 2004 presidential elections-to help determine voter trends. It's a technological edge that could mean the difference between winning and losing in a close election.

"It was an interesting buzzword in 2004. Now most people in politics have heard of microtargeting and most people think it is something they have to have in a campaign," said Ken Strasma, president and founder of Strategic Telemetry. "In a close race it can definitely make the difference of a couple percentage points."

While Strasma can't comment on the specifics of the Obama race-"It's not a secret weapon if we talk about it," he said-there are a number of basic questions predictive analytics tries to answer for any campaign. These include how likely it is that a voter is undecided, what issues undecided voters care about, how likely it is that a voter supports a certain candidate and how likely it is that an individual will contribute if asked.

"In increasingly polarized elections it becomes harder and harder to find undecided voters and to find issues voters are interested in," Strasma said.

"We were founded in 2003 to provide individual-level microtargeting for Democratic campaigns and progressive and labor organizations. Our goal is to bring the same type of technology used in the commercial world to the world of politics, where efficiencies are really important."

The bottom line in political campaigns is that there's only so much money to go around. Predictive analytics, its proponents say, is a way to help campaigns target their funds toward the right voters-those who haven't decided to vote for another candidate.