Meyers and Gage first worked with Romney on his 2002 campaign for governor of Massachusetts. The two Michigan Republican operatives had grown frustrated with campaign targeting that was restricted by the limited individual information available on the electoral rolls (party registration and vote history) and historical tallies at the precinct level, where actual results are available. Gage noticed that commercial marketers and credit-scorers had begun to organize reams of demographic and consumer data—from information on education levels to who had a hunting license—that made it possible to profile an individual across hundreds of variables at once. A former pollster, he designed large-scale surveys that would allow him to tether those individual profiles to topical political attitudes to reveal patterns in electoral behavior. Advances in computing power had made it possible to manipulate tens of millions of those records at once, and Meyers and Gage let algorithms find relationships between them. Their approach allowed them to analyze voters with far more nuance than had previously been possible. When Gage visited Romney’s Cambridge campaign headquarters with a PowerPoint presentation describing his untested method, a former venture capitalist serving as Romney’s deputy campaign manager spoke up. “You mean you don’t do this in politics?”By now this is standard procedure and I'm sure that the Democrats are doing something very similar.
Romney won that campaign, aided by Gage’s ability to pick out Massachusetts independents and Democrats who would be receptive to the candidate’s positions on specific issues like taxes and education. That success, along with similar projects for Republican tickets in two other states, helped Meyers and Gage win a lucrative contract to perform such “microtargeting”—as Gage successfully branded the technique—for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. Bush’s advisers wanted to identify segments of nontraditional Republican voters, like Latino women or church-going African-Americans, who could be pulled over to Bush with targeted appeals. In 2007, Gage’s firm, TargetPoint Consulting, signed on with Romney’s first presidential campaign, and set to work finding friendly caucus-goers in Iowa.
What helped Romney was that he had run before and so had all the data from 2008 that his team could feed into the computer and then use to target those same voters again this time around. They didn't need the big staff that they had used before in Iowa. They could plug in their information and have volunteers work from home and then set up telephone town hall discussions targeted to a particular voter's interests and candidate preferences.
Instead of trying to win over potential Romney voters with broadcast or online ads, conspicuous direct mail, or cultivating media coverage, the campaign used a new tool to narrowly target potential 2012 voters. So-called tele-town halls would ring an individual voter’s phone with a recorded message inviting him or her to participate in a conference call with the candidate. When a voter chose to participate, an automated prompt would ask for the same information that would be solicited by volunteer ID calls: who a voter supported, how likely they were to caucus. Romney’s team was able to put together different universes for each. Supporters would be invited to “friends and allies” calls (in one, Romney assuaged those made uneasy about attacks on his health care record). Persuasion targets who were modeled to care about the economy were invited to hear Romney introduce his jobs plan; those concerned about immigration were alerted to a call with Arizona sheriff Paul Babeu, a Romney surrogate.It was the information garnered from their specific targeting and tele-townhalls that gave them the confidence to go all out the last week of the race in Iowa. They might not have predicted that Santorum would be the one to rise and how many votes that he would get, but they had a lot of information on who would turn out for Romney.
The tele-town halls proved popular—often tens of thousands of voters would listen in—and, at only pennies each, fused a persuasive medium like a radio ad or a candidate visit with the ability of automated survey calls to measure response. Most of the Republican caucus campaigns used these tele-town halls to inexpensively reach voters spread out geographically, but they had a particular value to Romney as he tried to add voters who hadn’t been with him in 2008. The tele-town halls allowed him to make his case to targeted groups of Iowans on specific issues without raising media alerts that he was aggressively contesting the state.
That fits with Jay Cost's analysis that Romney got just about the exact same votes that he'd gotten in 2008. That was the strategy all along.
And this is the kind of operation that will be hard for someone like Santorum who is basically starting up from scratch in states like New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida to compete with. President Obama is probably already doing much the same thing with all the data that I'm sure they have from 2008. If Romney were to be the GOP nominee, it would be a real battle of techno-campaigns. However, if someone else beats Romney out for the nomination, it will be an indication that it takes a lot more than a snazzy approach to gathering information about voters and delivering them targeted messages to win a campaign.
I love process stories like this to find out how campaigns operated. Not only is it interesting, but it helps me in teaching politics to my AP Government and politics class. However, I'm always flummoxed about why campaigns brag like this to the media. Why pull back the curtain to let opponents know what they're doing. I understand that this sort of campaigning is a business and operatives are always looking for their next job. But can't they wait until their guy has either lost or won before they tell everyone how it's done.