This article originally provided by
The New York Times
October 1, 2006
Pollsters’ new tactic: profiling
You might have received a phone call in the
last few days asking if you want to repeal the food tax, or if you would
vote for a candidate who wants to loosen the penalties for drunken
Three campaign consultants contacted by the Sunday Gazette-Mail say
the calls could be part of a “micro-targeting” strategy. The goal is to
identify voters most likely to elect favored candidates, and then tailor
messages that appeal specifically to that voter.
People who received these phone calls have been told that Massey
Energy CEO Don Blankenship is sponsoring the polls. Blankenship has
promised to spend “whatever it takes” to unseat Democrats in the House
of Delegates in November.
In the old days, campaigns used historical voting data and polling to
determine which issues play well with the voters and where to
concentrate their “get out the vote” efforts.
More recently, the national GOP has pioneered the strategy of
Here’s how it works: Political consultants build sophisticated
databases that include not just how you voted in previous elections, but
whether you drive a Subaru Outback or a Ford F-150, and whether you
prefer to shop at Wal-Mart (a likely Republican) or Target (a
Then they develop profiles of the types of voters that support their
preferred candidate and determine which are swing-voters who need
Next, they conduct polls to determine what sets you off, known as
“anger points.” These are the issues that make you mad enough to show up
on Election Day.
Finally, you might receive mailings targeted to your “anger” issue —
abortion, corruption, high gas prices, etc.
It’s a more effective way to target political money, especially in a
low-turnout midterm election, said Tom Susman, director of TSG
Consulting in Charleston.
Several people have contacted the Sunday Gazette-Mail about receiving
Bob Cohen of Morgantown, a Democrat and a lawyer who specializes in
black lung cases, said the questions were:
Do you always vote for the labor-backed candidate?
Do you support repeal of the 5 percent food tax?
Would you support a candidate who wants to loosen the penalties for
DUI [driving under the influence]?
After the third question, Cohen said he asked who was sponsoring the
poll and what the name of the polling company was. He said he was told
that Blankenship was the sponsor and the polling firm was Conquest
Conquest Communications is a Richmond, Va., firm whose clients
include Blankenship’s group And For the Sake of the Kids and dozens of
mostly Republican candidates, according to its Web site.
Susman said the polls appear to be part of a strategy to find voters
in specific swing districts willing to vote against incumbent Democrats.
Based on the polling, swing voters should expect to receive mailings
that are targeted to the issues they care about, Susman said. Also,
voters who are likely to support Blankenship’s preferred candidates are
likely to be encouraged to vote as Election Day nears.
Other voters have reported that they were called recently by West
Virginians for Life and asked if they are pro-choice or pro-life.
Do the state Democrats have any similar effort planned? Pam Van Horn,
director of the state Democratic Legislative Council, declined to give
specific answers about strategy.
“While it will be hard for the West Virginia Democratic Party and our
candidates to compete with Mr. Blankenship’s 6 million pieces of silver,
we will have a well-coordinated and financed turnout operation to get
out the Democratic vote,” Van Horn said.
On a national level, Democrats are playing catch-up to the
Republicans’ micro-targeting efforts. And several political observers
say that most state-level Democrats are far behind their national
Susman said Democrats are not properly prepared for what is happening
this year in the House races. Even if they were, they don’t have the
resources to adequately combat the millions Blankenship is threatening
“In certain races, where the Democratic incumbents already are weak,
this campaign could be enough to topple some of them,” Susman said.
Susman’s firm, TSG Consulting, is working for two Democratic
candidates this year and its sister firm in Wheeling is working for one
Republican, Susman said.
The man running Blankenship’s drive, Greg Thomas, did not return
phone calls seeking comment for this story.
To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.