[biztech-discussion] Michael Howard aims to swing next year's election with (outsourced) database already used successfully by Republicans

  • From: Emily Berk <emily@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: (Recipient list suppressed)
  • Date: Sat, 09 Oct 2004 14:42:40 -0700

Nicholas Watt, and Julian Borger in Washington
Saturday October 9, 2004
The Guardian 

A giant American database, which is being used by the Tories to root out swing 
voters, is being hailed by Michael Howard as the party's secret "tool" which 
could transform next year's general election. 

Senior Tories told the Guardian that the Voter Vault system, which identifies 
400 social characteristics, is proving a great success in identifying voters 
who have abandoned the party in the past decade. 

"We have a new tool," one senior Tory said proudly. "It is something we have 
borrowed from the US. The notion is that if you know what people's social 
characteristics are, it is not too difficult to identify how they will vote." 

Voter Vault, which is being used by the Bush campaign, looks at people's 
shopping, eating and lifestyle habits. This is based on the Mosaic system which 
is used by supermarkets to work out which products to target at shoppers. 

The new system "vaults" this commercial information to predict how people will 
vote. That in turn allows party workers to focus their efforts most efficiently 
on those individuals most likely to respond to canvassing. 

An example of a key finding in the US is that Volvo drivers rarely vote 

At the heart of Voter Vault is a graph that places the tendency of people to 
vote against their tendency to vote Conservative. The Tories identify potential 
voters by taking a list of people who vote - this is publicly available - and 
setting this against certain pieces of information about them from the national 
census. They then identify Tory voters by examining the characteristics of 
20,000 of their party members to work out what sort of people vote Tory. 

The two groups are then placed together to identify swing voters - people who 
vote and who have Tory tendencies. In one study of 340,000 people the Tories 
achieved an 82% success rate in predicting who would vote for them. 

Liam Fox, the Tory co-chairman who imported the system, said yesterday: "This 
is potentially very significant. In the 2002 mid-term elections in the US, 
Voter Vault helped the Republicans increase their vote by 4%. This is politics 
of the margins but this is where elections are won." 

... Next month's US presidential election will pit the Republicans' Voter Vault 
technology against the Democrats' equivalent, DataMart, in the first duel 
between the rival databases. The Republicans have a head start. They used Voter 
Vault to devastating effect in congressional elections two years ago, focusing 
their time and resources on voters who were most likely to be persuaded to vote 
for them. 

... It was built by Seattle-based Advanced Custom Software, which - according 
to PC World magazine - contracted much of the work out to Compulink Systems of 
Maharashtra in India, leading to questions over whether the data could be 
stolen while being shipped around the world, and inevitable accusations of 
"outsourcing". The Republicans say all the work on Voter Vault since 2002 has 
been done in the US. 

For the 2002 elections, the database sucked in state voter information, census 
data and membership information from scores of clubs and interest groups. It 
allowed the Republicans to shape their message to reflect the leanings and 
concerns of each voter, and to fly President Bush to areas where he would be 
most effective. 

"In the old days people walked and knocked on every door," said Michael 
Cornfield, at the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington. "Now 
they just knock on the doors where they have reason to believe they'll get a 
favourable response." 

Partly as a result of their advantage in getting their supporters to the polls, 
the Republicans won back control of the Senate in 2002 and consolidated their 
hold on the House of Representatives. 

Rattled, the Democratic party scrambled to catch up, and has since built up its 
version of the technology, DataMart, into a list of 166 million voters, just 2 
million smaller than Voter Vault. The party has a second electronic contacts 
book known as Demzilla, of donors and activists. But unlike Voter Vault, 
neither system has been road tested.


Emily Berk

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  • » [biztech-discussion] Michael Howard aims to swing next year's election with (outsourced) database already used successfully by Republicans