Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Trump's Digital Advantage

I love this!

Thomas Edsall, at NYT, "Trump’s Digital Advantage Is Freaking Out Democratic Strategists":

In a blog post published in November, a year before the 2020 election, Brian Burch, the president of, a socially conservative advocacy group, announced that in Wisconsin alone his organization had identified 199,241 Catholics “who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days.”

Nearly half of these religiously observant parishioners, Burch wrote, “91,373 mass-attending Catholics — are not even registered to vote!” is looking for potential Trump voters within this large, untapped reservoir — Republican-leaning white Catholics who could bolster Trump’s numbers in a battleground state.

Burch, whose organization opposes abortion and gay marriage, made his plans clear:

We are already building the largest Catholic voter mobilization program ever. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. Our plan spans at least 7 states (and growing), and includes millions of Catholic voters.
How did Catholic Vote come up with these particular church attendance numbers for 199,241 Catholics? With geofencing, a technology that creates a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a cellphone enters or leaves a particular area — a church, for example, or a stadium, a school or an entire town.

Geofencing is just one of the new tools of digital campaigning, a largely unregulated field of political combat in which voters have little or no idea of how they are being manipulated, in which traditional disclosure requirements are inoperative and key actors are anonymous. It is a weapon of choice. Once an area is geofenced, commercial data companies can acquire the mobile phone ID numbers of those within the boundary.

This is how the National Catholic Reporter described the process in an article earlier this month:
Politically minded geofencers capture data from the cellphones of churchgoers, and then purchase ads targeting those devices. That data can be matched against other easily obtained databases, including voter profiles, which give marketers identifying information such as names, addresses and voter registration status.
Such information can be a gold mine.

Burch described what initiated in the 2018 election. “We created ad campaigns targeted to mobile devices that have been inside of Catholic churches,” Burch explained. What’s more,
We told Catholics in Missouri the truth about then-Senator Claire McCaskill — that she was pro-abortion, was unwilling to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor, and opposed Catholic judicial nominees because of their religious beliefs. And she lost.
If you attend an evangelical or a Catholic Church, a women’s rights march or a political rally of any kind, especially in a seriously contested state, the odds are that your cellphone ID number, home address, partisan affiliation and the identifying information of the people around you will be provided by geofencing marketers to campaigns, lobbyists and other interest groups.

With increasing speed, digital technology is transforming politics, constantly providing novel ways to target specific individuals, to get the unregistered registered, to turn out marginal voters, to persuade the undecided and to suppress support for the opposition.

Democrats and Republicans agree that the Trump campaign is far ahead of the Democratic Party in the use of this technology, capitalizing on its substantial investment during the 2016 election and benefiting from an uninterrupted high-tech drive since then.

Republicans “have a big advantage this time,” Ben Nuckels, a Democratic media consultant said in a phone interview. “They not only have all the data from 2016 but they have been building this operation into a nonstop juggernaut.”

The new technology, Nuckels continued, allows campaigns to “deliver a broader narrative over the top” on television and other media, while “underneath in digital you are delivering ads that are tailored to those voters that you need to influence and persuade the most.”

Catholic Vote's 2008 campaign video is here.


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