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Micro-Targeting Voters

October 27, 2006, 10:00 PM by Perry Groten

Could this year's election hinge upon what you buy at the store? Many political campaigns have gotten so sophisticated, they now track people's spending habits to tailor personalized messages to important swing voters. It's a marketing strategy called "micro-targeting."

Campaigns can tap into all kinds of information about you from credit card companies, to your Internet purchases or your magazine subscriptions to create a political profile about you. The idea is that your purchasing preferences reflect which way you'll lean at the voting booth. For instance, Wal-Mart shoppers are supposed to be on the conservative side. While Target customers are more liberal. Julie Kolling of Sioux Falls said, "I'm very sporadic, sometimes I shop at one store, sometimes I shop at a different store, so I don't think it necessarily says whether I'm conservative or liberal." 

Micro-targeters believe the car you drive may steer your political engine. Are you a Lexus Liberal... or a conservative pickup person? Or are you more in the middle-of-the-road? Shawna Roorda of Sioux Falls said, "I drive a Blue Mercury Sable, I don't think it says in what I believe in, what I don't believe in." 

According to Micro-targeting, liberal latte drinkers tend to pour into Starbucks. Conservatives prefer a regular cup of Joe. Other South Dakota voters defy coffee categories. Gary Welton of Sioux Falls said, "Well, I would drink turpentine if I thought it'd prevent the mudslinging in politics." 

Skeptics say micro-targeters rely too heavily upon generalizations to draw any accurate conclusions about consumers' voting habits. They say issues will always trump what they buy, drink or drive. 

Micro-targeting has been used for years in the private sector by advertisers and direct marketers selling products. It's believed to have made its political debut in Michigan in the 2002 elections.

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