A supporter of President Obama holds a sign before Obama speaks in Bowling Green, Ohio, on Sept. 26. Photo: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images
Apparently, there are 106,875 people named Marc who regularly show up to vote.
I know this because the Obama campaign, in an email to me last night, told me so. They're bragging!
How, you might ask, does the Obama campaign know this? The voter rolls they get are clean and updated regularly, but it turns out that they know a lot more about things.
They know if you're registered to vote or not. They know, because of the magazines you subscribe to, what you like to do in your spare time. They know, because of their Facebook friends, the types of people you associate with. Me: I am not a volunteer for the campaign. But they know how much money I make. They know my age. They know how long it takes me to open an email they send to me. They know which words are likely to make me open an email more quickly. They know what images make me click on a link more quickly. They're able to associate my name with my public online identities and make predictions about my behavior based on keywords they mine from the data.
Somewhere in Chicago, and elsewhere in a secret data center, a computer has come up with a score that projects the likelihood that I will vote for Obama. This number will help the campaign figure out how much of its finite resource store it needs to devote to getting me to the polls. The fact that I live in California means that I probably will not get a lot of personal attention from Team Obama. If I lived in Florida, I'd be getting regular contacts. The campaign will have figured out what types of people are more likely to get me to make a decision; they consciously and deliberately aim to manipulate me.
The Romney campaign is doing the same thing, but the scale is much smaller. Obama's 2008 campaign incorporated a lot of psychographic targeting, but voters weren't individuated as targets the way they are this cycle. The scope of the operation boggles the mind. It raises a lot of weird questions about free will and cognitive science. It is not the future of campaigning; it is the way that campaigns will be run from now until something else comes along and allows a campaign to directly target the synapses in my brain that potentiate when I think of voting for someone.
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