Micro-Targeting Breakthrough?

Serious political junkies should check out this Sasha Issenberg article from Slate, which I missed when it was first posted on Wednesday. It’s about Project Narwhal, a semi-secret Obama ’12 campaign effort to integrate various databases in a way that should greatly improve both micro-targeting of messages and GOTV mobilization as election day nears. Here’s the basic info:

This year’s looming innovations in campaign mechanics will be imperceptible to the electorate, and the engineers at Obama’s Chicago headquarters racing to complete Narwhal in time for the fall election season may be at work at one of the most important. If successful, Narwhal would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified political profile….

Full data integration would allow the campaign to target its online communication as sharply as it does its offline voter contact. When it comes to sensitive subjects like contraception, the campaign could rely on its extensive predictive models of individual attitudes and preferences to find friendly recipients…..

More broadly, Narwhal would bring new efficiency across the campaign’s operations. No longer will canvassers be dispatched to knock on the doors of people who have already volunteered to support Obama. And if a donor has given the maximum $2,500 in permitted contributions, emails will stop hitting him up for money and start asking him to volunteer instead. Those familiar with Narwhal’s development say the completion of such a technical infrastructure would also be a gift to future Democratic candidates who have struggled to organize political data that has been often arbitrarily siloed depending on which software vendor had primacy at a given moment.

I have no earthly idea whether Republicans are in a position to match the innovations in Project Narwhal, though the general assumption is that incumbent parties are in a vastly superior position to plan ahead, just as Bush’s 2004 campaign was able to do with its then-revolutionary micro-targeting intiatives.

In very close elections, these can be the things that really matter.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.