Political Nanotargeting

Many people think of politics as a lot of hot air. It turns out politics may be more like rocket science.

Since the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic political strategists have been using nanotargeting to reach and activate their political bases. To target ads, operatives pore over voting histories, housing values, recreational preferences, automobile ownership, TV viewership as well as favorite restaurants, drinks and websites.

Democrats and Republicans have a clear divergence on what they watch for news and entertainment. Democrats rely on national newspapers while Republicans dominate viewership of Fox News.

Who knew that your zest for Arby's or the number of bedrooms in your home could drop hints about your political leanings?

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Thomas Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, probes this intensifying segmentation — and polarization — of the American electorate. Here are some tips Edsall offers in spotting stereotypical Republicans and Democrats:

  • Someone who reads The Washington Post or watches the Comedy Channel is more likely to be a Democrat. People who reads The Wall Street Journal or watches Country Music Television or the Golf Channel are probably Republicans.

  • Among the top 10 favorite TV shows of Republicans are "The Office," "The Big Bang Theory," "Desperate Housewives" and "The Biggest Loser."  Democrats prefer "Late Show with David Letterman," "PBS NewsHour," "House of Payne" and "60 Minutes."

  • McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's appeal to the political middle. You can spot the Republicans eating at Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Arby's and Chick-fil-A, while the Democrats chow down at Popeye's, Dunkin' Donuts and Chuck E. Cheese.

  • The Democratic drinks of choice are cognac or Budweiser. Republicans favor light beers, Guinness and scotch.

  • Don't look for GOP presidential ads on "30 Rock" or Democratic ads on professional football games this fall.

Clearly these are generalized views of American political sympathies. But they are the basis for making critical, make-or-break advertising choices. As Edsall notes, "Incremental shifts among key constituencies — Hispanics, single white working class women and private-sector unionized employees — can be decisive."

Campaign marketing gurus have reached this level of sophistication so they can pinpoint motivated voters and lazy voters, concentrating advertising dollars on reinforcing the instincts of motivated voters to cast a ballot and lazy voters not to bother.

Perhaps ironically, the looser campaign spending rules, especially those relating to Super PACs, could see more money chasing narrow voter targets. Edsall speculates that a close contest between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney could funnel enormous sums to lock down small numbers of undecided and disinterested voters this fall. 

Of course, some political stereotypes just don't hold water any more. The notion that only Republicans drive around in Cadillacs and Lincolns is no longer true. Ownership of those vehicles is more politically split. While it's true Democrats more often drive hybrids and Subarus, they also dominate Audi and Mercedes ownership. Republicans have the edge on Porsches and Hummers, and the Land Rover is virtually the official car of the Republican Party.

Your choice of wheels may betray your political viewpoint. Hybrid car = Democrat. Land Rover = Republican.Charts provided by Will Feltus of National Media.