AUSTIN, Texas - It’s the Moneyball of politics.
That’s what Republican political strategist Patrick Ruffini calls political campaigns' efforts to sell politicians using the same data companies use to sell products.
“The use of data is exploding in politics just like it is everywhere else,” he told an audience at the South by Southwest conference on Sunday.
The Obama campaign, for example, has advertized for a job as a “data mining scientist,” and analysts are now using consumer information to go beyond the typical political polls.
No one single piece of information says much, but analysts say a pattern of information culled from online advertizing databases can give unique insights into the voting population, as well as individual voters.
Knowing what cars voters drive; where they shop; or what they buy can indicate not just who they might vote for but how they can be persuaded , whether they’ll donate money, or whether they'll become involved in a campaign, said Alex Lundry, director of research at TargetPoint Consulting, a firm that has done work for GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
“With this chain of consumer date we can predict with stunning accuracy how they will vote,” he said.
Traditional polling is often restricted by the type of questions, but data gathered online can give a much deeper picture of potential voting behavior, he said.
Besides getting a better sense of political sentiment, data mining can allow campaigns to communicate with individual voters in a much more personal way. Pleas for money can be personalized, and automated voting reminders can appeal to individual reasons for voting.
Still, the hoard of data can have pitfalls. Campaigns, like companies, walk a fine line between personalization and privacy, Ruffini said. And online sentiment often doesn’t translate to support in ballot box.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, often enjoys a loyal online following but he has struggled to win in any primary.
And despite a high level of attention online before the Super Tuesday primaries, Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich only won in one state -- George -- that day, said Kristen Soltis, vice president at the Winston Group, which has worked for the former speaker of the House.