Karl Rove's Campaign Strategy For Sale

Today's home-grown political candidates can now lean on a digital Karl Rove of sorts.

A new Web-based service claims to offer up a version of the political consultant and former Bush administration member's "micro-targeting" electoral analysis and campaign management method, said to be responsible for winning some elections for Republicans.

Micro-targeting, which involves slicing and dicing data on an electorate into tiny interest groups and then crafting separate appeals for each of them, was formerly a method applied to national campaigns, but the new service brings the same capabilities to local elections, said Adam Piper of Sewell Consultancy, manufacturer of the service called VICTOR.

"It provides fresh, clean data and automates a lot of things that campaigns typically waste large amounts of time and money on," Piper said.

Data Means Victory

VICTOR is built around local election commission databases, plus whatever opinion polls the candidate cares to commission or find free on the Internet, Piper said. Sewell Consultancy tries to make sure the data is current so there will not be massive returns when a campaign sends out mailers, he added.

Election commission data will not show who a voter has voted for the past, but it will show what, if any, party primaries he or she has voted in, which pretty much establishes the party affiliation of that voter. Beyond that, the usual demographics of age, ethnicity, income and location give a pretty good handle on how a particular voter will feel about a particular issue, Piper explained.

Used wisely, micro-targeting can give candidates a decisive margin, especially in close elections, he said.

For instance, during the 2004 presidential election the Bush campaign discovered, through micro-targeting, a pool of about 6,000 lower-income women in New Mexico who would not have been expected to vote Republican but who probably could be won over to the Bush camp with his "No Child Left Behind" initiative, Piper said. The campaign made a special effort to target them.

The result? "Bush went on to win that state by less than 6,000 votes," Piper said. Without micro-targeting, he might have lost that state, the thinking goes.

Micro-targeting’s pedigree

Micro-targeting got its start after the 2000 election when Rove was disappointed with the accuracy of his election forecasts, Piper said. In the end, the Republican Party created a massive voter database called the Voter Vault that was used for micro-targeting.

"Through 2004, it was a competitive advantage, but now everyone uses it in the GOP, and the Democrats have come out with their own version, called Demzilla," Piper said. VICTOR is superior to either, he said, because it includes analytical tools as well as a database.

The VICTOR service is intended to be customized for specific campaigns, and therefore even giving a ballpark price range would not be possible, Piper said. Also, the price of election commission data varies widely from place to place, he added.

But he pledged that once VICTOR is acquired by a particular candidate, it will not be sold to that candidate’s opponent.