Death by Data

Politicians are micro-targeting their messages at their own peril.
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Grimes in Kentucky attempted to placate her intended audience by refusing to acknowledge who she voted for in the last presidential race. What a pathetic performance. What lousy advice from her people. Was it O'Reilly on Fox who recently said, "Of course he lied. Lying is a part of American politics. We should accept it?" Or something like that. So millions upon millions of dollars are spent on sickening ads and American politics sinks deeper into the abyss. And now with the GOP taking over the senate we will have that idiot from Oklahoma who will chair the committee on environmental protection. I'm thinking that a Jim Jones-style group suicide is in order for the entire U. S. Congress. Non-voters are saying that the mid-term elections are meaningless. What a stupid "electorate." Or non-electorate. We're no better than Russia. Worse.

0 2016-11-19 11:05:57 - dallen35

If voting were a cultural matter of civic pride, rather than mostly a disconsolate rejection of largely imagined threats, these demographic techniques would not last long.

2 2016-11-10 19:02:13 - Frank

Agree, David. Yes, politics IS data driven. Your voting base is identified for you. Your campaign ideas and policies are formulated for you. And, yes, the money is right there for you -- if you're willing to go along. Freeze-dried politics. Just add you. But what we get is robot politics and politicians. And we pay dearly for the privilege. The system has made it incredibly easy to run. It's plug and play. But it's also made it incredibly difficult. You have to give up so much of yourself, compromise so much of who you really are, to play the game. And there are so many scorekeepers ready to pounce on you if you step out of line -- like the NRA rating system. What our political system does is inoculate itself from real leaders. Apparently, that's the way we like it. But how do we attract good, young people? I just can't imagine why the talented ones would pursue a career in politics. Until the parties start choosing real people -- or we do -- it's a pretty charmless way to make a living.

12 2016-11-09 05:28:14 - pat knapp

Mr Brooks is right in saying politicians are operating on the wrong level of consciousness. They have found it is easier to energize and activate the lower level emotions. He talks about the belief that what matters in politics is the reaction of populations and not the idiosyncratic judgment, moral character or creativity of individuals. Unfortunately it's a belief because it has been proven to be mostly true over the last 30 some years. We have been shown over and over that the reactionary group is the group that votes. Wouldn't it be nice if the voters really were "looking for quality of leadership, character, vision in solidarity that defies quantification," and then insisted on them? When the majority of the people actually look for those qualities, they will find them.

Those "coalitions" that didn't exist before Ronald Reagan's handlers changed things, included the southern Democrats who became Republicans because of civil rights issues, John Birch Society members, white supremacists, those against women's power and anything "liberal" or "new." That's when I changed from being a Republican to being a Democrat.

5 2016-11-05 09:59:29 - Justthinkin

"This year, the most notorious victim of demographic politics" will be the American People with every Republican candidate elected. No party has done more to hide or lie about what it really stands for. The really sad part is that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know what it is - you just have to have paid even a little attention to the past 14 years.

45 2016-10-31 21:29:56 - zb

Brooks makes some good points about analysts assuming that people in a certain group all tend to think alike. Not all women (from millennials to senior citizens) think alike. And phrases like the "Latino vote" fail to recognize the wide diversity of Latinos in America-- some new arrivals, others that have been here for generations; Puerto Ricans who may travel back to the island often to see their relatives, as well as Cuban Americans who haven't been able to see their family members in Cuba for decades.

People are individuals, and trying to win their vote by appealing to a convenient ethnic/racial/generational/regional box seems rather clumsy.

1 2016-10-28 02:51:39 - S.B.

I will be upset if Wheat, the incumbent 28 year Montana lawyer and Supreme Court justice loses tomorrow to a right wing lawyer who has practiced here for 2 years. Check out Montana Cowgirl blog for details on what 3 professors from Stanford and Dartmouth did to this nonpartisan race. Two are connected with the Hoover Institute. At least one is a fellow there and has started a for profit company called Crowd Pac, which tells you how to vote by criteria they pick. For the Montana mailer, as a college "research" study, they labelled the men in our Supreme Court race as liberal or conservative not by their legal decisions but by their campaign donors. They put Wheat's name near Obama and put Obama farther to the left than they put Romney's name to the right,next to the right wing opponent .

Then they sent these fliers with our Montana state seal on it and their own names in fine print to 100,000 Montanans. Then the colleges apologized and sent out fliers saying people should ignore the first fliers, which had said they should take those " voting guides" to the polls.

This all might sound local to some but for me it feels astounding right now for a conservative columnist to be criticizing elections influenced by "data" after the lies in this study, making it look like an official Montana state voter guide and pinning Wheat as "liberal". He might look into what people with the Hoover Institute are doing here.

11 2016-10-19 15:42:54 - Anne Harris

It was his wife Nancy who visited the astrologer. Plus it was a question of reframing the debate in 1980, not sharing your particular political philosophy. And Reagan followed another bumbling Democratic President,

0 2016-10-15 11:11:58 - kwb

Our political elections are almost entirely poll-driven today, and as a result politicians neglect overarching issues of real importance and instead focus on niche issues to win the support of the demographic groups that Brooks mentions. Their political fingers are always in the wind, and so their real convictions about what's best for our nation are subordinated to whatever will get them elected.

Politicians who strive to be real leaders would do well to get rid of their pollsters and instead say what they really think. Back in the early days of polling, then president Harry Truman called polls (which predicted a landslide victory for Republican Thomas Dewey) a lot of hooey and ignored them to his ultimate advantage. Now pollsters are to an increasing extent determining who wins elections. So now we have a lot of politicians who are elected without any ideas worth mentioning and who are only interested in getting re-elected using the same polling techniques. Real leaders with real convictions are in very short supply.

1 2016-10-15 06:16:30 - Mary Ann & Ken Bergman

You always write with an intelligent tone. Many times your analysis seems correct. However, your conclusions include a base assumption about President Obama's motives that harmonize with your newspaper's clinging to elitism instead of applying Occam's razor to the basic truth. The current administration was not led to "reactive drift" as a result of the 2012 election. It has been Obama's goal since his first days as a community organizer to wage class warfare and pursue divisive tactics as espoused by the mentor of Chicago political machine philosophy ( Saul Alinsky and Rules for Radicals ). So your asserting that Obama "lacked a policy agenda and produced no mandate," is not accurate. His agenda is to transform the USA into the "New America." Every step he takes is to divide and conquer rather acting as a leader for the entire country seeking center-based compromise. Unfortunately, he succeeded. The GOP has lacked direction and been scattered about taking his bait and losing to his more effective campaign skills. The electorate has been manipulated into following red herrings while being driven away from our uniting principles. You would do well to read ( or reread ) Alinsky and watch for the same verbiage used in Obama's stump speeches (like the insult that too many Americans "cling" to their Bibles and guns ). It will be hard for someone as intelligent as you to admit it but you have been duped by eloquence and refused to look at the facts.

0 2016-10-15 06:08:09 - Ken

Considering that the "War on Women" theme has backfired a bit and African-Americans and Hispanics are starting to question their strict allegiance to democrats, I'd say demographics will be less an "automatic" basis for targeting by the democratic party.

As a republican woman, I am enjoying the GOP's being forced to address women's issues. The democratic party is facing its own reckoning (even if its members don't know it yet). Its loosening grip on women, African-Americans and Hispanics can only be a benefit to them.

No party should have a lock on any demographic group.

0 2016-10-12 02:28:35 - AACNY

"Data-driven candidates sacrifice their own souls".....What bothers me more is elections that are not driven by knowledge and facts. Too often it is not the souls of the candidates that win or lose an election but the number of misinformed voters.

1 2016-10-09 03:28:46 - W.A. Spitzer

Richard Luettgen:

You're right. Extraordinary gift for political campaigns. I'm afraid we're all going to be dragged into yet another of his by the way.

1 2016-10-04 04:51:51 - AACNY

"Where you are is who you are." Every student in high school knows those words. They're from Toni Cade Bambara's short story, "The Lesson." Demography is destiny. Zip codes rule.

The data-driven candidate is better than the one driven by beliefs. The former can be reasoned with. The latter is, well, more like Mr. Brooks in his unexamined assumptions and the worship of Conservative ideologies.

3 2016-10-03 03:53:35 - David

"One victim was Mitt Romney, who ran for president not as himself, but as a thin slice of himself."

To assert that Mitt Romney did not reveal himself fully is quite presumptuous.

People who are trying to hide, but are poor at it, so poor that they can't even appreciate that they are "hiding" in plain sight, are indeed fully revealing themselves. You're also disregarding the fact that Romney in fact revealed himself as many candidate slices throughout the primary and general campaigns.

The only thing about Romney he failed to reveal about himself was his tax returns. But by refusing to reveal them, he of course revealed himself further.

If you believe that Romney did not fully reveal himself, Mr. Brooks, then it's you who did not see what was right in front of you.

13 2016-09-27 09:06:53 - Robert Eller

Yes, only the phenomenal advance in computers and communications of the last decade have made it all possible. The effect is seen throughout the marketing world.

0 2016-09-25 02:37:19 - John Bellantoni

How many voters know how the candidates would vote on
2- Energy development
3- Keystone
4-Returning troops to iraq
5-Preventing Global Warming
6- Tax reform
7- Wall Street regulations
8-Food stamps and the Farm "welfare" bill for millionaire farmers
9-minimum wage
10- Cutting college costs
Just a few items not discussed in lieu of calling your opponent names and creating a nasty atmosphere promoting underlying distrust and anger among various groups.
The voters will get what they deserve for their lack of demand on the candidates to take positions.

5 2016-09-17 02:25:22 - Richard Head

I can understand why David Brooks doesn't like the 'demography is destiny' idea.

3 2016-09-09 20:08:37 - Evangelical Survivor

So, David, can I summarize this column by stating that candidates who try to be all things to all people mean nothing to everyone? I think that's what you were trying to convey, but there were so many clauses that the message got lost. Maybe you'd like to give political speech writing a go.

0 2016-09-02 09:42:14 - NM

Good points by Mr Brooks. But as someone who has been involved a lot of campaigns, I can assure that micro-targettong can be sadly effective.

Cases in point: Registered African American voters who are registered Dems or registered as No Party. I was involved in GOTVing such voters. In the 2008 Dem Primary 90% votes for Obama, even ones who had a "highly favorable" rating of Hillary. (Republican AAs are a truly independent group and tend to vote on issues.)

0 2016-09-01 07:04:40 - GlobalTraveller

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