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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Micro Trends, Micro Politics?


    by Shariq on 8th May, 2008 at 11:39 am    

    The other day Sunny and I were discussing the use of carefully collected data in targeting distinct groups of voters. Essentially this works by dividing people into different demographics, allowing campaign literature and policies to be tailored accordingly.

    To a large extent this seems like common sense. However in recent years data collection and polling has become much more sophisticated. In his book “Microtrends”, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Mark Penn claimed to have identified 75 different subgroups of people, ranging from Christian Zionists to Impressionable Elites. George Bush’s success in 2004 is also largely attributed to a very sucessful micro-targeting campaign by Karl Rove.

    This passage from Democrat Strategist Ed Kilgore’s review of Mark Penn’s book highlights some key concerns and rebuttals of using Mictrends in political campaigning.

    Penn’s critics often fear that his goal is to undermine broad progressive political themes by encouraging an unprincipled slicing and dicing of the electorate to identify various swing targets. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with understanding the electorate in all its complexity, and forswearing microanalysis guarantees willful ignorance but does not guarantee a macropolitics of progressive principle.

    Is Fragmentation Really Occurring?

    I that fragmentation as a result mainly as a result of the internet is actually occurring. I’m really looking forward to reading Clay Shirkey’s new book which arguest that it is and that this is a good thing (Edited transcript of a speech he gave previewing some of his ideas).

    Where do you Draw the Line?
    In that sense I don’t necessarily think its a bad idea to understand demographics. I support stressing different policies to separate groups and using different media based on who you are targeting.

    I don’t think it is in the interests of progressives to tailor their policies in order to meet perceived voter demands. The Iraq war is a classic example of this. By trying to triangulate, first John Kerry and now Hillary Clinton came across as being naive and indecisive. This proved bad both politically and in terms of real world outcomes.

    This also has a negative impact when governing. By reducing the 10 pence tax rate and reducing the middle income band, Gordon Brown thought he was onto a winner by increasing his appeal with people in the middle. The subsequent climbdown has only added to his woes.

    A more pervasive example of this is the way in which centre-left governments manipulate tax credits and deductions in order to appease different groups. General frustration with how complicated the tax code is, is often used as an argument by the right to argue for reducing taxes or even implementing a flat tax.

    With Gordon Brown seemingly intent on hiring Mark Penn himself, it seems like we’ll get the chance to see how microtrends work in the UK.



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    20 Comments below   |  

    1. George Bush » Micro Trends, Micro Politics? — on 8th May, 2008 at 1:54 pm  

      [...] Pickled Politics wrote an interesting post today on Micro Trends, Micro Politics?Here’s a quick excerpt The other day Sunny and I were discussing the use of carefully collected data in targeting distinct groups of voters. Essentially this works by dividing people into different demographics, allowing campaign literature and policies to be tailored accordingly. To a large extent this seems like common sense. However in recent years data collection and polling has become much more sophisticated. In his book “Microtrends”, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Mark Penn claimed to have identified 75 [...]

    2. Leon — on 8th May, 2008 at 2:00 pm  

      Politics is a numbers game so it makes sense that this all happens.

      It’s a question of judgment and balance from what I can see. You don’t want to appear to focused on the numbers breakdown of potential voters but you can’t win without a proper analysis of them.

    3. El Cid — on 8th May, 2008 at 2:26 pm  

      “Impressionable elites”
      I like that.

    4. Leon — on 8th May, 2008 at 4:59 pm  

      Heh me too, can think of a few people that applies too in the UK…

    5. Sunny — on 8th May, 2008 at 10:40 pm  

      This is a good post Shariq, a subject of close interest to me.

      I don’t think it is in the interests of progressives to tailor their policies in order to meet perceived voter demands.

      See, I’m not sure about this. I think you’re right in that it can backfire, as Gordon Brown backfired… but I think there are certain instances where it can work.

      I think big decisions, like taxes and war, should be straightforward and progressive.

      But you can also address parts of your electorate with specific laws. For example, addressing the concerns of lesbian and gay groups… or addressing christian evangelicals. If addressing them violates general progressive principles (like restricting free speech generally that is).

      Otherwise, I like Micro managing generally. Makes the public like you. I might get Mark Penn’s book…

    6. Leon — on 8th May, 2008 at 10:51 pm  

      Yeah I was thinking it might make an interesting read to.

    7. Dave Cole — on 8th May, 2008 at 11:58 pm  

      The parties in the UK already use Mosaic data.

    8. shariq — on 9th May, 2008 at 7:51 am  

      Hi Dave. Is that one of the reasons why increasing amounts of effort is put into targeting swing voters in swing constituencies or are the two unconnected?

    9. Justforfun — on 9th May, 2008 at 9:45 am  

      Is this not ‘community’ politics taken to the edges of the ‘mathematical intergation’, where each sliver our the graph is compressed until it matches the curve and makes the area under the graph more accurate? - so maximizing votes.

      As each group is defined and shown to be influential - or at leasest be heard, other groups will form to demand their slice of limelight. 75 groups eh? what about the 76th group that can be found within the population? Not yet important enough to be their own subgroup I suppose, but give it time they will be ‘found’ ,then ‘defined’and then ‘cultivated’ by a politian who wants thier vote ;-) the birth of a new ‘community’ I suppose.

      But there is the added problem - what happens when we as individuals have different ‘communities’ to which we ascibe ourselves in varing degrees - which conflict in their requirements? I can see the winners will be those that have the best models and can then influence the boundary commission to maximize the vote in their favour and then influence them again and again. I think we will see in 30 years the fragmentation of constituencies with enclaves within other constituancies, and even enclaves within enclaves.

      Penn may have found his strategy works because he has found a tool that gives better results for politians - where their aim is to gain and hold office. However it is implied that this is good democracy. Is this the actually true though? If a politian retains his seat, I suppose it could be argued he has hit apon the correct balance in all the conflicting arguements and that this is ‘democracy’ in action. However is it good democracy? Its a genuine question. Any comments?

      If we want to allow our democracy to be run along ‘mathematical’ modelling lines, then surely the alternative is another mathematical model - chance and the lottery. That truelly would be representative and perhaps easier to safe guard its equality. All National Lottery winners have to serve a term as an MP.

      Sunny - what is a ‘progressive’ war? - just so I know when to vote for one the next time around?

      I think I’m getting more reactionary as I age :-)

      justforfun

    10. Leon — on 9th May, 2008 at 12:56 pm  

      If we want to allow our democracy to be run along ‘mathematical’ modelling lines

      It already is and has been for quite some time.

      Oh yeah I’ve ordered the book, should be interesting reading…

    11. Shariq — on 9th May, 2008 at 2:21 pm  

      Look forward to reading your review of it Leon!

      Sunny, do you think you should ‘pander’ to groups you identify having a need, or only go ahead with it if you agree with the aims of the policy or legislation?

    12. Sunny — on 9th May, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

      I think one should only ‘pander’ to them if it fits into your broader policy agenda. For example, allowing lesbian mothers to be legally accepted as ‘parents’ might be pandering, but its also progressive legislation.

    13. Leon — on 9th May, 2008 at 4:07 pm  

      One mans pander is another mans bear…more to the point people say its pandering when its something they don’t like. They call it representing if they find they agree with it…

    14. shariq — on 9th May, 2008 at 4:10 pm  

      Yeah, I would go along with that.

      Using your earlier example though, what if evangelicals had a concern that if you addressed would guarantee you their vote even if you didn’t necessarily agree with it.

      You also know that even though pandering to them might tick other people off (e.g atheists), its unlikely to be enough for them to change their vote.

      Under that hypothetical you begin to approach the territory which justforfun outlined.

    15. Leon — on 13th May, 2008 at 1:12 pm  

      Got the book yesterday, started reading this morning (made the tube journey fly by!), very easy read and grabs you too. Fascinating stuff on the notion of small movements/interests effecting great change too…

    16. Sunny — on 13th May, 2008 at 3:42 pm  

      Can I borrow it after you? :)

    17. Sunny — on 13th May, 2008 at 3:43 pm  

      You also know that even though pandering to them might tick other people off (e.g atheists), its unlikely to be enough for them to change their vote.

      I agree, its always tricky. But in any society in a democracy you annoy certain constituents.

    18. Leon — on 13th May, 2008 at 3:47 pm  

      Can I borrow it after you?

      Heh of course!

    19. Pickled Politics » Obama goes after Jewish Democrats — on 13th May, 2008 at 4:19 pm  

      [...] I know this will annoy Anas but I’m in agreement with Obama of course. My views are pretty much the same. I’m posting this partly because I’m writing an article for CIF on when politicians pander to specific bases of their party. Shariq wrote about this a few days ago: Micro trends, micro politics? [...]

    20. Dave Cole — on 22nd May, 2008 at 2:29 pm  

      Shariq -

      In answer to your question about Mosaic and swing constituencies, I think it’s used more to target voters within constituencies who you don’t have good data on where it might be worth knocking on their door.

      xD.

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