How Politicians Target YOU: 3,000 Data Points on Every Voter, Including Your Phone Number


Election season is over, but the barrage of political phone calls, TV and radio ads, desperate ALL CAPS email fundraising appeals, and frenzied Facebook videos are probably still ringing in your ears.

Politicians and political advocacy groups are getting more and more technically proficient and creative in reaching voters.

Many campaigns are taking the best practices of Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 corporations and applying them to political communications.

(Although one might call them “worst practices” from a civil liberties standpoint.)

The same technology, know-how, and data that drive Coca-Cola’s latest advertising campaign are now behind your U.S. senator’s re-election effort.

The foundational element driving these modern whiz-bang campaigns? Data.

“Data is King,” or so say the TV pundits. The phrase is essentially meaningless.

For instance, A dog could relieve itself on a sidewalk and that would qualify as “data.” Other than not being very regal, the dog’s “data” would not be very valuable — unless, uh, you’re into that sort of thing. Note: see a doctor.

What’s important about data are the quality and quantity: politicians now have in their databases intimate information about voting habits, income, debt, family composition, religion, gun ownership, magazine subscriptions, gym membership, what kind of car you drive, and a whole lot more.

Sometimes you’re probably wondering: how the heck did they find me?

Other than the Illuminati (they’re out there, I swear!), you can blame the assault on the voter data economy, in which candidates, parties and nonprofits quietly collect, buy and exploit information about you.

In other words, you — the American voter — have been broken down into a collection of data points. No one ever said this was healthy for our democratic republic, but it is an increasingly useful means by which to micro-target voting U.S. citizens from multiple angles on the issues that matter to them.

Here are five major sources of political data that fuel the political machine.

  1. State Voter Files:
    Information such as voter registration details and voting history are matters of “semipublic” record in most places. They are semipublic because states generally limit access to political parties and campaigns, academics and journalists (and the commercial businesses that help them).
  2. Commercial Voter Files:
    Political data brokers collect state voter files, add additional information on voters: personal banking data, TV subscriptions (are you a basic cable, Netflix, or HBO subscriber?), smartphone apps downloaded, hobbies, your estimated income, mortgage payments, whether you have employer insurance, whether you drive a Prius or an F-150 and more.

    Fun fact: voters who have gym memberships are more reliable voters.

    These voter data brokers then use fancy technology and algorithms to make informed predictions about you as a voter, including how likely you are to vote in a given election year and how much you’re likely to donate if solicited in a fundraising appeal.

  3. Information That We Ourselves Disclose (Even If Unintentionally)
    When you donate to a politician, you’re not just contributing money — you’re also contributing to their database of information. The same goes for when you plug in your email to join a politician or political organization’s online newsletter.

    Even if you’re just snooping around a political candidate’s website looking for some ACTUAL ANSWERS on where they stand and the issues you can count on them to support (good luck finding that info!), they’re collecting data on you by using hidden trackers.

    It’s like when you go shopping for a dishwasher on Amazon and then start seeing ads for dishwashers everywhere.

    In other creepy news, smartphones also now allow campaigns to physically track us with location-data. It’s now possible for campaigns to identify people who set foot in churches and — based on the frequency of their visits — target them with specific ads.

    In other scenarios, your politically active friends can be the Judas that sells you out to the political data machine. Volunteer texting campaigns and campaign apps frequently ask people to upload their contacts list — automatically enrolling you into the voter contact machine.

    One way for politicians to pay off their end-of-campaign debts is by selling their data. Political donor contact information is particularly valuable in this regard. Sometimes campaigns will share this information voluntarily with allies or someone that they owe a “favor.”
    Facebook, popularly known as the Anti-Christ, is the Dyson vacuum of the data collection industry. Boy, does it suck…up information.

    Think 3,000 data points is a lot of information? That’s a drop in the proverbial bucket for the ocean of data Facebook collects on U.S. citizens.

    Facebook collects information about what its users share and do both ON and OFF the social platform. So just because you’re not using your Facebook app on your phone at the moment doesn’t mean that Facebook isn’t collecting information on you.

    Get educated and safeguard your privacy!