Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Political Bombardment: The Problem of Absentee Ballots

Following up on microtargeting, I'd like to mention another fact that came out of the meeting with the foreign journalists I described in my last post. Microtargeting allows political actors (as well as advertisers and other marketing folks) to use public information to bring a message to you that will be more likely to resonate with you as an individual. Whether that is a good thing or not is up to you, but in all likelihood that practice is not going anywhere soon. There is too much money/power to be gained from using it to think people will voluntarily reduce this kind of behavior.

But all this activity costs money. And we must remember that some of our political races are not battles of multi-millionaires in public venues with significant media attention. Others are in smaller, local races that still involve retail politics. Like my friend Tom, who is running for a legislative office. His approach: go door-to-door and meet people. Call those you don't meet. And put up some yard signs to indicate where support comes from. That works if you have a small enough community to reach. But I can't emphasize the significance of the word "work".

Some of these smaller campaigns do not have the resources to send out multiple targeted mailings to potential voters. Instead, they face a dilemma in choosing when to send out their one targeted mailing. As pointed out by both Messrs. Achelpol and Kramer, here is their dilemma: the traditional approach, waiting until just before the election, works fine for those people who actually vote on election day. However, with our liberal absentee ballot rules, people may be voting weeks ahead of the actual election date. As a result, these votes are cast without the benefit (or influence, to use a more neutral term) of targeted mailings.

Though a campaign more flush with cash might aquire absentee ballot request information (which is publicly available) and ensure that their material gets to likely supporters, those with more modest resources can't. That means they may just have to put out a consistent message for everyone. Pity.


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