Micro-targeting offers clues to early vote leads
October 26th, 2012
03:51 PM ET
1 year ago

Micro-targeting offers clues to early vote leads

Washington (CNN) – In blog posts, conference calls and dueling press releases, both presidential campaigns are locked in a flame war over who has the edge in early voting.

The Obama campaign says its sophisticated field operation is running up the score before Election Day and bringing new voters into the fold. Romney forces, counting on Republican grassroots enthusiasm and a re-tooled ground game, say they've narrowed the early voting gap since 2008.

– Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker

– Check out the CNN Electoral Map and Calculator and game out your own strategy for November.

Officials in both parties concede that President Obama is all but certain to win the early vote in key states like Ohio and Iowa.

But it's still difficult to tell who's actually voting for whom in the early and absentee vote, because the clues we have derive mostly from voter registration data. And registration data alone can only reveal so much about voting behavior.

In North Carolina, for instance, registered Democrats are out-voting registered Republicans by a 2-1 margin. The Obama campaign says that 72% of North Carolina early voters are women, youth, African-American or Latino. That's good news for Obama.

But like famed basketball coach Dean Smith and the soft drink Cheerwine, a Democratic advantage in voter registration is a North Carolina tradition. There have been more registered Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina for generations – the late, firebrand conservative Jesse Helms was a Democrat until 1970 - but Tar Heel Democrats have a knack for voting GOP on the federal level.

In Ohio, Republicans say the number of GOP ballots cast in early voting is outpacing their voter registration across the state. A sure sign of Romney enthusiasm, perhaps. Until you examine the confusing nature of voter registration in Ohio.

People don't just check a box to side with one party or the other. Instead, party registration is determined by the most recent partisan primary one participated in.

Ohio Democrats haven't had a big statewide primary in years. Republicans had one in March. There's also a big chunk of unaffiliated voters who are hard to peg as Republican or Democrat.

This is where micro-targeting comes in.

Both campaigns are using the data mining technique to identify and turn out their supporters, but the numbers they're using to develop a turnout model are tightly held by operatives in Chicago and Boston.

The process of using commercial and consumer data to tag and persuade potential supporters was by pioneered by George W. Bush advisers in 2000 and honed during his 2004 re-election.

People were targeted not just on the basis of their zip codes or past voting history, but according to which magazines they subscribed to, or whether they owned a gun, or what kind of car they owned. Using algorithms, Bush strategists were able to comb through a vast quantity of data in order to tailor their messages down to the neighborhood, even household, level.

Democrats were caught flat-footed in the data-mining game but began catching up in 2006.

Today, Catalist, a progressive, for-profit vendor that refines and sells data on over 280 million voters to scores of liberal groups like the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood, is one of the Democratic coalition's secret weapons.

Even Republican svengali Karl Rove admitted to the journalist Sasha Issenberg earlier this year that the Catalist model - housing much of the party's voter data in the hands of a private entity rather than a campaign committee, so it can be shared across the liberal spectrum - has helped Democrats "move ahead" of Republicans in the data mining game.

Catalist looks beyond voter registration and examines over 300 different variables culled from commercial data and their clients' canvassing efforts to develop a score – "a partisanship model" – for every voter in their database. The higher the score, the more likely it is that person will vote Democrat.

Analysts at the company, co-founded by longtime Bill Clinton hand Harold Ickes and veteran Democratic strategist Laura Quinn, have been examining the early voting numbers in key states and say the returns give an edge to the president.

The company worked with the Obama campaign in 2008 but is not doing so directly in 2012. But they are tracking early voting based on their modeling of who is a likely Democrat and who is a likely Republican.

In Ohio through Wednesday evening, according to their models, Catalist says that 50% of those who have requested absentee ballots are Democrats, while 36% are Republicans. And 55% of voters who have returned ballots can be safely identified as Democrats. Only 34% are Republicans.

The company's models also show that in blue collar Ohio communities, likely Democrats are making up nearly 60% of the early electorate.

Slightly wider but similar margins also favor Obama in Iowa, where early voting began on Sept. 27.

Republicans say Democratic leads in early and absentee voting suggest the Obama camp is only turning out their most loyal backers, and that the president's support will fall off on Election Day.

Obama campaign officials counter by saying they have identified and registered thousands of new voters in the battleground states and their strong early turnout operation is only a sign of things to come.

"Nobody is claiming that this is going to prove the outcome, but it does show that we think our ground operation is working," Ickes told CNN in an interview at Catalist headquarters in Washington. "Our voter contact, our voter ID and actually getting these people to ask for a ballot and actually vote and return it. The numbers show a dramatic disparity between what we think are Republicans, and we think are Democrats."

In Virginia and Colorado, two traditionally-Republican states that Obama flipped in 2008, Catalist models show likely Democrats and Republicans running roughly even in the early vote.

But in Virginia they show that unmarried women – a constituency that should favor the president – account for 30% of absentee ballot requests. According to Catalist models, 60% of those single women requesting absentee ballots can safely be identified as Democrats.

They point to more signs of hope for Democrats in North Carolina, where a registered Democrat can't necessarily be counted as an Obama voter. In North Carolina, 30% of early voters are African-American. Exit polls in 2008 ultimately pegged African-Americans at 23% of the North Carolina electorate.

Ultimately, thanks to a little thing called the secret ballot, nobody knows exactly which candidate these likely Democrats and likely Republicans are voting for.

The campaigns are reluctant to share their own micro-targeting scores with reporters, although a Republican National Committee official told CNN last week that their modeling showed likely Republicans leading likely Democrats by a five-point margin among unaffiliated voters in Ohio. That number was quickly disputed by Obama officials.

But micro-targeting is driving each campaign's assessments of who their voters are, and the Catalist data offers some hints as to what the shape of the early vote electorate actually looks like.

"This is based on modeling of who is a Democrat and who is a Republican that we've been doing for well over five years, and we think its pretty damn close," Ickes told CNN. "We think it's very accurate."


Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Luke,AZ

    When Gov. Romney loses this election it will be because he didn't show us his taxes. SHOW US YOUR TAXES FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS.

    October 26, 2012 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    Most of the early voters are voting for Obama. I voted for Obama and straight democratic ticket. Mitt is just a joke to USA and world.

    October 26, 2012 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Just a thought

    The GOP/Tea Pee pants party is nauseating....Lies and race baiting should never be the road to success in this country.

    October 26, 2012 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  4. HUSSEIN OBAMA

    Obama’s Outsourcer
    Company of Obama export adviser encourages outsourcing jobs to Mexico

    BY: Washington Free Beacon Staff
    October 26, 2012 2:35 pm

    The company of a prominent Obama administration adviser is encouraging its employees and business partners to explore outsourcing to Mexico.

    Boeing is urging its employees and suppliers to participate in a Nov. 15 event in Chicago, where Obama cast his vote for president Thursday, which will focus “on how to do business in Mexico,” according to a letter sent to the company’s suppliers by Patrick McKenna, Boeing’s director of Supply Chain Strategy and Supplier Management.

    October 26, 2012 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    Good grief. From now until election day, Romney is going to "buy" ad time for each voting area Obama or Biden gives campaign speeches - after the fact? And is coining it his Mitt Romney "get out the vote" grassroots "winning" strategy?

    What a load of nonsense Mitt Romney is spreading.

    October 26, 2012 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  6. HUSSEIN OBAMA

    When Hussein Obama loses this election it will be because he denied those charities $5 million in food to their hungry mouths.

    October 26, 2012 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  7. Namejkane sfl a vote for lady parts romney the tax cheat and lyin lady parts ryan willcut your moms medicare and soc sec . .can you afford to pay for them???

    Nothing matters about the polls ,Obama will win in a landslide,voters aren't dumb enough. To vote in the gop broken party .vote early so the gop can't rig it anymore than they already have .

    October 26, 2012 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  8. Early Voter for Obama

    Most people I spoke with saying the early voteing was long line for Obama.,.
    Several people in line told me they just dont trust Romney.

    October 26, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  9. Dave Jaipersaud

    Romney and the Republican idea of change and to make things better is to do the same things that caused the problem. I am sure they would have no problem rehiring a financial advisor whose investment policies almost wiped out most Americans life savings. Basically that is what the Republicans are proposing. They are saying lets fire the guy that stabilized your investments and grow it to almost what it was prior to 2007 and let’s rehire the guy whose policies almost wiped it out. Do they think most Americans are stupid?

    Here is the real hoax. The Republican idea to make things better is to do the same things that caused the problem. Here is something to think about. Republicans would have no problem rehiring a financial advisor whose investment policies almost wiped out their life savings. Basically that is what they are proposing. Republicans are telling us to fire the guy that stabilized and grow our investments to almost what it was worth prior to 2007 and rehire the guy whose policies almost wiped it out. We have to be really stupid to listen to them and rehire a guy whose policies wiped out investment in the first place. I would hope that Americans are smarter than that.

    Here is a simple way of looking at who is best for the economy. Would you invest with a guy whose investment policies wiped out your investment portfolio or would you invest with a guy whose investment policies stabilized your investment portfolio and is currently growing your portfolio. Even Romney wouldn't invest his own money with the guy whose policies wiped out everyone’s investment and now he wants us to do it. So why would anyone even consider voting for any Republican.

    How can any Americans think that Romney/Ryan policies would be better for the Economy. The only way for anyone to think that is if they are suffering from total amnesia. Have people forgotten what happened in 2007/2008 and the years leading up to the Great Recession. It was the exact same policies that Romney is advocating now that caused the Great Recession. Are we that dumb to think that these same policies that caused the Great Recession will somehow magically make the economy better.

    I guess Romney/Ryan think we are all stupid and don’t know the truth and can’t remember the dark days of the great recession of 2007 and 2008 and the years leading up to it.

    The choice is clear. Do we want to go back to the exact same policies (Romney/Ryan current policies) that brought America (this great Nation) to its knees or do we want to continue to build on the recovery.

    October 26, 2012 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  10. Dave Jaipersaud

    Here is the big change Romney and the Republicans are talking about. It doesn’t matter how Romney and the Republican try to spin their policies, the American people know how disastrous those policies have been for this country, especially for the Middle Class and less fortunate.

    Americans are not stupid. How can anyone even thing Romney’s policies will be better for this country. Romney and the Republicans policies from 2001 to 2008 brought this great nation to its knees, their policies caused the Great Recession, their policies wiped out almost 10,000,000 jobs as a direct result of the Great Recession, their policies wiped out retirement savings for tens of millions of Americans as a direct result to the Great Recession, their policies took a $1 trillion surplus to a $13 trillion deficit, their policies resulted in the decline in the percentage of Americans that are in the middle class, their policies resulted in tens of millions of Americans without healthcare, their policies resulted in millions of Americans losing their homes, their policies will be detrimental to Latinos and all other minorities, their policies will result in another war in the Middle East, and the list goes on.

    No Americans in their right mind will believe that Romney/Ryan policies will be better for the Economy. The only way for anyone to think that is if they are suffering from total amnesia. People will remember what happened in 2007/2008 and the years leading up to the Great Recession. It was the exact same policies that Romney is advocating now that caused the Great Recession. We are not that dumb to think that these same policies that caused the Great Recession will somehow magically make the economy better.

    I guess Romney/Ryan think we are all stupid and don’t know the truth and can’t remember the dark days of the great recession of 2007 and 2008 and the years leading up to it.

    The choice is clear. Do we want to go back to the exact same policies (Romney/Ryan current policies) that brought America (this great Nation) to its knees or do we want to continue to build on the recovery.

    October 26, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  11. I Voted Early In NC

    CNN, NC is tied. By the way a lot has changed in NC since 1970 when the late Jesse Helms was a Democrat. Within the first week almost 1 million people have early voted. We still have long lines everywhere for early voting. I am a native Tar Heel, my neighbors are from N.Y.,FL., N. J., and many other states. I am very happy to say NC is not the NC it used to be. The second day of early voting while standing in line I knew Romney was counting his chickens before they hatched. No matter what the pollsters say I know the demographics just like I did in 2008 because I live here.

    October 26, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  12. Dan

    Here in Wisconsin, Republicans knocking on doors aren't even from our state. Had one guy finally admit their busing them in from Texas.
    Whereas, we can talk about politics, Packers, and Badgers with the Democrats knocking on our door.

    If you want Midwest votes, don't bus in people from Texas.

    October 26, 2012 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  13. 2012liberal

    That's grt 2 hear that dems r getting there ballots sent n and voting early. Let republicans deal w messed up machines and long frustrating lines nov6.

    October 26, 2012 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  14. jose

    My take is that early voting in general favors Democrats. I have always had a feeling that given equal opportunity and time for voting taking into account the specific needs and conditions in the voting precincts, Democrats would overwhelm Republicans. There are just more people who like Obama than does who don't. If lines are shorter, places more accessible -truckers, over-timers, single moms, full time working students, elderly who don't own cars or have lesser resources for transportation, aid while voting, factory workers, just to give a few examples, they would definitely vote more consistently, The more opportunities, convenience, accommodations, longer time periods and diversity of places to vote, the more this favors the Democrats. The changing demographics and more progressive voting policies should scare the delights out of conservatives.

    October 26, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  15. chilly g

    the president will win with a mandate and will then be able to get the econmony moving faster because the republicans
    goal of defeating the president at all cost will no longer be the case.

    October 26, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  16. Phil

    "I just dont trust Romney" SOOOOOO you will trust a guy that has lied to you for the last 4 years.... YEA THAT MAKES SENSE. Its scary how some of these uninformed fools vote!

    October 26, 2012 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  17. Bill

    When Obama wins the election can he choose Bill Clinton as secretary of state,what a great pairing.

    October 26, 2012 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  18. Four and The Door

    Dave Jaipersaud
    Here is the big change Romney and the Republicans are talking about. It doesn’t matter how Romney and the Republican try to spin their policies, the American people know how disastrous those policies have been for this country, especially for the Middle Class and less fortunate.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________
    But the middle class and less fortunate have been pummeled terribly in the last 3 1/2 years. It's amazing that you buy into Obama's campaign rhetoric that he's looking out for them. Oh, I get it. He will start next time. It will be better, huh?

    October 26, 2012 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  19. Four and The Door

    Bill
    When Obama wins the election can he choose Bill Clinton as secretary of state,what a great pairing.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________
    I suppose that would give Clinton less access to the Interns...

    October 26, 2012 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  20. The REAL Truth...

    Good grief folks – The early voting numbers are a sure sign that Mitt the Twit is totally toast in a couple of weeks. Not that the intelligent among us ever doubted that. The MSM (other than that bastion of right wing BS – Faux Noise) has been trying to keep this a close race for some time now, but plenty of folks I know and have talked to – even in the notoriously red states – are voting Obama. They cannot stomach the attack ads and the complete innacuracies and falsehoods coming from the right wing ads and posters. The American people have seen thru the Greedy Old Party platform (not that hard really, given it has no substance, except attack ads) and will vote to continue moving forward out the mess that the Repugs put us into. If you haven't done so yet, vote for the team that will continue to move us forward – OBAMA/BIDEN 2012.

    October 26, 2012 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |