POLITICS

Ted Cruz Campaign's Data-Heavy Approach To Targeting Voters Looks Familiar

The GOP senator's campaign is building off a successful tactic.

Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) presidential campaign has gotten a lot of attention for profiling and targeting potential voters in early primary states. (See, for example, a Sunday article in The Washington Post, or The Guardian last week, or Bloomberg Politics in November, or National Review Online in July.)

The program involves data-mining the lives of Americans -- mainly through digital means -- to identify and then target those most likely to support the candidate. According to the Post, a "team of statisticians and behavioral psychologists who subscribe to the ­burgeoning practice of 'psycho­graphic targeting' built their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test" at Cruz's Houston office with which they then use to target voters with "specially tailored messages, phone calls and visits."

Campaigns have used statistics-heavy approaches for decades. President Barack Obama's successful presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 used such methods. A technique called "psycho­graphic targeting" was first used by Mark Penn during President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996. Penn went on to advise Hillary Clinton's successful bid for Senate in 2000 using the same tactic (although he has since been ostracized by Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign).

Cruz's campaign is harvesting data through sources that include Facebook and consumer habits. According to the Post, it also tracks data and browsing habits from its mobile app, and has the ability to narrowly target Web ads by setting up a virtual "geo-fence" around a location.

More on Penn's similar-sounding approach from a June 18, 2000, New York Times profile, as flagged by Ari Rabin-Havt:

Referred to as ''psychographic'' because it melds psychological with demographic data, Penn's ''Neuro-Personality'' poll was similar to a tool relied on by businesses. Called VALS (''values and lifestyles''), this tool uses questions about personal behavior and attitudes to divide the population into eight groups based on what motivates them. Because it enables companies to figure out which message will prompt particular groups to buy, the system has been used to push everything from vodka to smoking cessation to public radio to cereal.

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