Cruz campaign using advanced data-mining to target voters

Tom Abrahams Image
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Cruz campaign using advanced data-mining to target voters
A look inside a presidential campaign, and how data is front and center in the effort to draw voters and donors

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- In the center of Ted Cruz's national campaign headquarters in a southwest Houston high-rise is a group of staffers you may not know -- but who may know a lot about you.

They are the data and analytics team, led by researcher Chris Wilson.

"There is nothing we're doing that is magical or is in a black box," explained Wilson, whose company, WPA Opinion Research, also worked for Texas Governor Greg Abbott's successful campaign in 2014. "The difference between what we're doing and what other people are doing is the commitment to it. I think what we're doing is more advanced."

They are advanced, in that they have a team of 10 PhD's creating and analyzing programs which target potential voters and donors. They utilize the data not just to find out what issues matter to you, but why you care about them.

"That's the level of targeting that exists on every single person and every single republican primary voter in the united states and the way in which we will communicate with him or her," explained Wilson. "Targeting existed, even to a certain extent individual targeting existed. But I don't think the individual targeting the way that we're doing it has ever been done before."

"Any time you go on line, you leave a digital footprint," said John Taylor, a political science professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

He says whether its Cruz, or Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton -- they're all gathering data online and off -- it's getting more sophisticated by the day. While President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign is the "gold standard" of campaign analytics, Taylor said the first "online" campaign was then-candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.

"By 1996," said Taylor, "we began to see most campaigns online. Then we began to see by 2000 the use of analytics to start to drive how we tailor campaigns."

It's called-micro-targeting, which means data-miners can learn information through phone surveys, the websites you visit on a computer, tablet, or phone. They can even target the television shows you watch.

Cruz's team is able to pinpoint how to reach you and predict how you'll respond by extrapolating data collected in surveys and personality profiles.

Wilson said, "If we have the ability to talk to voters one on one, the way they care about things on issues they care about, that's what political campaigns should be about. And it gets back to the way campaigns were meant to be run in the first place."

Cruz's team of doctoral data miners will grow to twenty as it works information in the early primary states.

Regardless of their work, they know that ultimately what drives someone to the polls isn't data. It's a candidate and his or her message.

"No matter how advanced any analytics you have may be," mused Wilson. "You couldn't have elected Wendy Davis Governor of Texas using these techniques."