The 2012 Presidential Software Race

A small shadow industry of software providers markets the polling and fundraising tools used in most American political campaigns. Here's a look at some major players.

With the 2012 American election season in high gear, Democratic and Republican party activists have been pulling out all the stops for November. These days, cutting-edge software packages are borrowing techniques from the worlds of marketing and retail to let election campaigns analyze the daily lives of voters in minute detail. A series of new products have recently been released that make microtargeted junk mail--and swaying voters--as easy as cake. Some products are aimed squarely at Republicans; others at Democrats. Other products are party-agnostic and designed for whichever campaign will pay the right among of green. Either way, it's big business.

VoterMapping.com is one of the most interesting party-agnostic campaign tools out there. A product of voter data clearinghouse Labels and Lists, VoterMapping.com is a web-based, subscription product that allows campaigns to instantly browse household-by-household voter data via the Bing Maps API. Consultants, pollsters, and others can view millions of data points (purchased separately from Labels and Lists or third parties) in real time. Voter registration data is included; using the website, users can instantly see the names and ages of residents, voting habits, likely ethnicity, and other data points in real time across homes, neighborhoods, and voting districts without any lag or downtime while data processes.

“The combination of the most accurately processed voter data available and the speed of the geo-spatial visualization gives users unprecedented analytical power. It gives consultants the ability to micro-target in minutes and actually see the results instead of combing through pages and pages of spreadsheets. No other technology can pan through millions of voters at the speeds VoterMapping.com does,” Labels and Lists' Tracy A. Dietz told Fast Company.

Another major political tech provider to both Democrats and Republicans is the partnership of Aristotle and Intermarkets, who offer campaigns software packages for fundraising, advertising placement, and political microtargeting. Although Intermarkets comes from a decidedly conservative and Republican neighborhood--their ad network is centered around right-wing stalwarts such as the Drudge Report, Ann Coulter, and Michelle Malkin—they have also been aggressively offering their services to Democratic campaigns. Intermarkets has separate marketing teams targeting Democratic and Republican campaigns; chief marketing officer Michael Loy told industry publication Campaigns and Elections that “I think our approach is similar to Google or Facebook […] We take a nonpartisan approach to technology, but there are partisan aspects to the staffing we’ve developed. It does allow our reps on the ground to interact with clients at a partisan level.”

While Intermarkets is an example of a GOP-connected firm that's targeting Democratic candidates, NationBuilder has Democratic roots, but has been pitching their voter-engagement platform to Republican campaigns. The service, which makes its profits through a subscription-fee base that's supplemented by high-cost email and SMS text message blast fees, pitches to candidates from both major parties. Although the company's meat-and-potato clients are labor unions and Democratic campaigns, Mashable reported in July that NationBuilder signed an exclusive contract with the Republican State Leadership Committee, which bought NationBuilder's services to approximately 7500 Republican candidates for state office nationwide.

Other political software firms instead find it useful to be expressly partisan. NGP VAN specializes in fundraising tools for Democratic campaigns, and newcomers DSPolitical are the self-proclaimed “home of the political cookie.” DSPolitical helps Democratic campaigns offer internet users microtargeted political advertisements based on their web surfing habits.

Meanwhile, the right-wing sibling team of Charles and David Koch are allegedly bankrolling an ambitious conservative political technology project called Themis. Themis, which has no website, was the subject of a recent Reuters article, which claims the firm is working on high-end data modeling for Republican campaigns. Another Republican-leaning technology firm, i-360, specializes in data analysis for right-wing campaigns.

The Republican National Committee itself is also directly involved in election tech. In August 2011, the RNC established Data Trust, another website-lacking project, to manage their voter database. Data Trust is overseen by former RNC officials to finetune voter outreach effort through the kind of marketing analytics usually used by big box and online retailers.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Find Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, on Twitter and Google+.

[Norman Yee/NationBuilder Image: Courtesy Norman Lee]

[Image: Flickr user Marcin Wichary]

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