- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gin or vodka? Ford or BMW? Perrier or Fiji water? Does the car you buy or what’s in your fridge say anything about how you will vote?

According to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign, yes.

Employing technology honed in President Bush’s 2004 victory, the Republican governor’s re-election team has created a vast computer storehouse of data on personal buying habits and voter records to identify likely supporters. Campaign officials say the operation is the largest of its kind in any state.

Some strategists think consumer information can reveal a voter’s politics even better than a party label.

“It’s not where they live, it’s how they live,” said Josh Ginsberg, the Schwarzenegger campaign’s deputy political director.

The idea is an outgrowth of techniques that businesses have long used to find new customers. Using publicdata, the Bush campaign in 2004 knew voters’ favorite vacation spots, the music and magazines they liked, the cars they drove.

Few people may realize how much information is available, for a price, about their lifestyles. Companies collect and sell consumer information they buy from credit-card companies, airlines and retailers of every stripe.

Using “microtargeting,” as the practice is called, Mr. Bush’s campaign teased out supporters in swing states such as Ohio. Mr. Schwarzenegger — whose political operation is run by two Bush veterans, campaign manager Steve Schmidt and strategist Matthew Dowd — is taking a page from that book.

The governor appears headed for victory, and campaign officials already credit the system with driving up support.

Republicans also hope microtargeting will drive up turnout in states with tight congressional races.

Similarly, a coalition of unions and other left-leaning groups called America Votes is using consumer records to help find Democratic supporters in several states. The Democratic National Committee is employing consumer data to try to boost turnout.

The California Democratic Party — which heads the statewide turnout operation for Schwarzenegger’s rival, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, and other party candidates — has been gathering consumer information as well.

The Schwarzenegger campaign has stockpiled millions of names, phone numbers and addresses with consumer preferences, voting histories and other demographic information. The information allows the campaign to target a household with phone calls, mailings and visits from volunteers, with the message tailored to issues the resident is thought to care about.

In simplest terms: A homeowner who drives a Volvo, reads the New Yorker and shops at Whole Foods Market is likely to lean Democratic. A pickup driver with a hunting or fishing license who reads Time magazine probably leans right.

“For a long time in California, the thesis has been that television advertising by itself drives voter turnout. That, in fact, is not the case,” Mr. Schmidt said. “What drives voters is person-to-person contact.”

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