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Nov 06 2012

OK, America, you can start ignoring Ohio again

As is my custom, I voted before coming in to work. There was quite a crowd but the polling place was well organized and efficient. The ballot was long, what with judges and referenda that had to be decided. Our precinct uses optical scanning machines so the ballot has those bubbles that have to be filled in to indicate your vote. Since I am the kind of person who likes to fill in the little ovals very neatly, staying carefully within the lines, that took some time but I was still out in about 20 minutes.

If so many people had not voted early, the lines may have been longer. I enjoy the process of voting in person on election day, though I can see that it is declining in popularity. Ohio, and my community in particular, has that mid-western friendliness and there is something nice about everyone gathering together to vote and you often run into neighbors and friends you haven’t seen for awhile at the polls

There were only three people outside the polling center, and they were handing out the Democratic party recommendations. There were no Republicans. Interestingly there is usually a lot more outside activity when there are purely local elections such as for the school board or for school levies.

During election season, I toss all the election-related literature as they arrive into a pile and last night I went through it all and was surprised by the fact that almost all of it was for Democratic candidates and in favor of Democratic positions on the ballot issues. The only Republican literature was for Josh Mandel, who is challenging Sherrod Brown for the US Senate seat. I also noticed that most of it was addressed to me and relatively few to my wife, though we both vote in every election.

I am not a registered Democrat or Republican and do not vote in the party primaries so should be considered an independent and I was curious as to why there was so few Republican mailings. I have read that the two parties now have sophisticated databases that can identify the political leanings of voters and maybe they have figured out that there was no chance in hell that I would vote the Romney-Ryan ticket. But where would they get the data that makes them so sure? Do they read my blog? I usually do not respond to the phone calls that I get. It is true that I live in Cuyahoga County in the city of Shaker Heights, both of which are strongly Democratic but by no means universally so. In fact, I was surprised by the number of Romney-Ryan lawn signs during this election.

It may be that parties are now foregoing the direct mail approach in favor of TV and internet advertising blitzes.

Another thing that struck me last night is that there were no newspaper ads for candidates during the campaign, except oblique ones like those from Billy Graham that did not specifically tell you to vote Republican but pretty much strongly hinted that you should. Looking back, I do not recall ever seeing a direct political ad by a political party in the newspapers even in past elections, though it is possible that my eyes simply glaze over them. Is there some law that prevents political ads from appearing in newspapers? Surely that would not be constitutional?

19 comments

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  1. 1
    psweet

    Perhaps with the decline in readership, the parties have decided that newspaper ads simply aren’t worth the money.

  2. 2
    unbound

    This has been, for me, the worst presidential election for robocalls. We have been absolutely hammered by them (another battleground state, Virginia)…pretty much all of them by the RNC/Romney.

    I tried voting early this morning (6:45 local), but the line was at least 90 minutes long which conflicted with some work meetings, so I’ll be trying later today (worst case, I’ll just stand in line starting early this afternoon). Almost all of the advertising around the voting locations (went by 2 of them) is Republican.

    TV here has equally been hammered by political commercials for the past month (pretty close to 50% of all commercials), but at least it seemed like both parties were getting their message out there. Still getting pretty sickening since all I can think of is how that money could be spent on things that really matter and might last beyond a few months every few years…

  3. 3
    Gregory in Seattle

    Unfortunately, it looks like Ohio will be in play for a good long while: read Jason’s blog about how Ohio’s election results will be suspect, thanks to an untested last-second voting machine patch. Personally, I expect that there were few Republican mailers because they knew they could reprogram the tabulation machines at the last minute and just steal the election: this let the party put their resources in states where the theft would not be so easy.

  4. 4
    Doug Little

    From all indications it sounds like turnout is good, which is good for the Democrats, historically.

  5. 5
    Doug Little

    Yeah this has been circulating for a couple of days now. There are law suits already filed over this.

  6. 6
    flex

    Did you previously vote in primaries?

    Here in Michigan the party you associated with for the primary is collected during the primaries and this information can be purchased by a campaign.

    There is nothing illegal about this, the primaries are run for the benefit of the parties, not to select a person for the office. Also, the ballot, i.e. who you voted for in the primary, remains secret. The only data collected is which parties ballot you selected.

    But what it means is that a campaign manager can get a list of registered voters in a precinct and see how which party they declared themselves over several primary elections. This allows the campaign to segregate it’s market and focus the materials it distributes to the people who are an the fence. That is, based on working with campaign managers, voters are divided into several categories; strong democrats, strong republicans, weak democrats, weak republicans, and independents. A strong democrat or republican always votes for that party and votes in every election. A weak democrat or republican often votes for that party, but either may switch on occasion or miss some elections.

    The strategy taken by the campaign based on this information varies. Typically though, a person categorized as strong will get some literature, but not a great deal. They need to be reached out to, but not convinced. A weak democrat may get a lot of democratic literature, but a lot of democratic literature may be sent to weak republicans as well (and visa-versa for a weak republican). The point is to convince that weak person to vote, and maybe to switch parties.

    Now Ohio may differ somewhat from Michigan, but I suspect that the collection of data and the targeting of voter literature is probably fairly similar.

    While I understand and appreciate the technique of segmenting the market, so I understand why political campaigns do this, I am skeptical about how effective it is. I don’t use this information myself for my campaigns, my community is small enough (pop. 13,000), that I will spend a few months walking door-to-door and visit everyone I can. Even if I was running for an office with a much larger constituency, I would probably try to reach every voter, even those who I know will not vote for me. After all, if I am elected, I will still be representing their interests as well as the interests of the people who did vote for me.

  7. 7
    Tim

    I voted in Northeast Ohio before work as well. The weather is supposed to be pleasant today, another factor in voter turnout.

    Interesting thoughts on the mailing process, Mano. FWIW, I was swamped with both robo-calls as well as Republican mailings (I, like Mano, am an independent voter).

    Finally … what’s a newspaper ad?

  8. 8
    HP

    I believe that the parties target their mailers based on your ZIP+4 code. Those can be mapped to precinct results from previous elections.

    My precinct is majority-Black and reliably Blue, but it’s also historically low-turnout, so the robocalls, personal calls, and even door-to-door canvassers have been hitting things pretty hard.

  9. 9
    jamessweet

    It may be that parties are now foregoing the direct mail approach in favor of TV and internet advertising blitzes.

    A recent New Yorker article painted just the opposite picture. FWIW. (Too lazy to find the link, sorry)

  10. 10
    Peter the Mediocre

    I too am in NE Ohio, and I saw political ads in the local paper (ABJ, FWIW). I was at the polling place, which opened at 6:30, at 6:15, and there was already a line. When I left after voting (at 6:55) there was a LONG line. I got much mail from both sides. I saw that a couple of people ahead of me had to use provisional ballots; the poll workers seemed to be doing their best to find legitimate ways to give the people normal ballots.

  11. 11
    Mano Singham

    I once voted in a Democratic primary, a long time ago. This was because our congressional district is so solidly Democratic that whoever gets that nomination is going to win so the primary is your only chance to influence the process. When long-term congressman Louis Stokes retired, I voted in the 1998 primary to select his successor but that was it. Could it be that I am still listed as a Democrat?

  12. 12
    One Brow

    They just had a speaker on the Daily Show (or maybe the Colbert Report, I forget which), talking about the data mining being done by both campaigns. They assess probabilities based on the products you order, warranties you fill out, etc.

  13. 13
    baal

    Really, I want jail time (after due process) for Husted. This is not ok. Calling the patch ‘experimental’ so it can circumvent the State and Federal testing requirements is beyond bizarre; it’s criminal.

  14. 14
    flex

    That seems a little older than the data I was shown, most of what I was shown was for only the last 10 years. Of course, that was in 2004, so it wouldn’t surprise me that the data has simply been added to rather than picking a reasonable starting date. Campaign workers are not well known for their experience in handling large quantities of messy data.

    It could very well be that since they know you voted in a 1998 primary for a democrat that the system thinks you are either an independent with slight democratic leanings, or possibly a lapsed democrat who needs a nudge to get out and vote. If your wife has voted democratic in many primaries, she may be identified as a strong democrat and thus gets less literature.

    I personally find it fascinating that you can almost identify the algorithm used to make these selections. For you know that the sorting of voters and addresses are certainly done using a sorting algorithm and that even the mailings are largely automated now. The result is about as bad as the junk mail mailings in your mailbox. Ideally the campaign would want to structure an argument which would appeal to you alone, but because they are dealing with thousands and even hundreds of thousands of recipients, none of the literature can create the specific argument which would convince you of the necessity to vote for their position. So they end up with a hodge-podge of arguments which may influence many but convinces few.

    Over time I suspect the literature will get better and you will get fewer pieces, but better tailored to your personal beliefs. I can’t say that I think this is better, but I think it is inevitable. I suppose it will help us hone our critical thinking skills even more. Think of it as an evolutionary arms race between the people who are trying to persuade you and your own ability to think for yourself. Of course, just like in evolutionary theory, these are not independent variables, but highly dependent on each other.

  15. 15
    unnullifier

    It’s the Colbert Report.

  16. 16
    Mano Singham

    Thanks!

  17. 17
    JagerBaBomb

    I’m with you on that. The punishment needs to be hefty, too.

  18. 18
    fwtbc

    Beat me to it.

    It was Colbert, specifically the Monday night Nate Silver episode. Pretty sure it was the other guest and not Nate that was talking about this though, their name was Sasha something.

    Just thought I’d chime in to hopefully help anyone looking to find the clip easily.

  19. 19
    Mano Singham

    The interview in question is with Sasha Issenberg here.

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