Push Campaigning: Datamart, the Voter Vault, and you

Politics | Fundraising
I’ve written on length about Social Network Fundraising, which is so called because it pulls people in to the network. The nature of this “pull” campaigning is that a relationship ties each person into another person closer to the campaign.

By contrast, “push” campaigning is when headquarters reaches out to the finicky swing middle, who is outside the fundraising networks. They are reached through television ad campaings and phone calls and direct mailings, which are nowadays getting more customized. In a Feb. 15th NYT Magazine article, “The Very, Very Personal is the Political”, Jon Gertner describes the big databases which have in recent years formed the brain of the push campaign. They have all information on 170 million voting households: The RNC’s Voter Vault and the DNC’s DataMart. Here’s a telling passage from the end of the article:

“The nightmare scenario is that the databases create puppet masters,” Peter Swire, a privacy expert who worked at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, told me. The nightmare vision, Swire added, means that the public debates lack content and the real election happens in the privacy of these mailings. The candidate knows everything about the voter, but the media and the public know nothing about what the candidate really believes. It is, in effect, a nearly perfect perversion of the political process.

If the 2000 election wasn’t a nightmare, I don’t know what was. (As much as “they” seem to know me, I somehow got an letter asking me to renew my RNC membership. Here’s how I marked it up.)

For the near future, the fundraising networks will continue to grow, and the money will necessarily have to be spent somewhere– into push tactics for to reach those swing voters. In the ideal future, everybody joins a network, and we can finally divorce ourselves from coercive marketing (see Douglas Rushkoff’s book Coercion for some more fun examples of this).

Or there could be a combination push/pull– instead of headquarters having all this information on you, the information is sent to a community leader who suddenly “knows” you– and thus has an easier time persuading you to join his network. They wouldn’t do that, would they? A question for you, my readers!

April 19th update: This piece has gotten more than a few hits through Google, notably one search on 4/16 for name and password for rnc “voter vault”. Sorry I don’t have it. Nonetheless, I’ve been asking the DemTech/KerryTech yahoogroups whether any of the various grassroots projects will have any kind of interface to the DataMart. Two-way communication would be a good thing– shouldn’t local democrats get information from the mothership? Assuming that the pay it back with some updated information. Nobody on the groups has answered this.