Football Fans Vote Republican: Hardcore Data Miners Track “Neo Tribes” With “Micro-Targeting”

Aristotle delivers valuable (and detailed!) data to candidates about potential supporters. In fact, don’t be surprised if the candidates know more about you than you do about them.


In political campaigns, as in everything, knowledge is power. Data about potential voters is of great value to candidates, and Aristotle, a company that has dealt in political technology for almost 30 years, is finding new ways go about collecting and delivering that data in the 2012 election.

Aristotle mines data from various sources–credit card purchases, public records, grocery discount card records, magazine subscriptions, social media sites, the list goes on–and compiles detailed profiles of voters. The data considered relevant is often surprising: It’s not just about whether a given voter has identified with a certain party or indicated that particular issues matter to them.

In the absence of more easily actionable data like that, campaigns turn to other clues to make inferences about how good of a target you might be: How many children do you have? Where do they go to school? What kind of car do you drive? What are your hobbies? You’d be surprised at the relations the data crunchers can find. sums it up nicely: “A preference for football indicates Republican leanings. Basketball indicates Democratic leanings. Religious purchases can say a lot about social-issue stances. Professional licenses can help paint a picture of a voter. Owning a motorcycle strongly suggests libertarian leanings and gun-rights advocacy. A subscription to Good Housekeeping says someone will favor female candidates.”

John Phillips, Aristotle’s CEO, tells Fast Company that Aristotle gathers some 500 attributes on voters, “such as interests and charitable causes, educational level, homeowner/renter, estimated income or presence of children in the household.”

Phillips is the first to admit this may seem weird to the unitiated. “While some may initially see information such as magazine subscriptions and the type of car one drives as irrelevant, many consultants use these unique fields to form theories on how people will vote,” he tells Fast Company. The pollster John Zogby has used data like Aristotle’s to parse people into “neo tribes” that vote alike.

Data that might seem devoid of political content are nonetheless seen as useful enough indices to lure many campaigns onto Aristotle’s client list. “Every U.S. President–Democrat and Republican–from Reagan through Obama, has used Aristotle products and/or services, as have many U.S. Senators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic and Republican state party organizations and other major campaigns worldwide,” Aristotle boasts on its site.


Aristotle’s data crunching goes beyond identifying potential voters; they’ll also help you manage your campaign and bolster pre-existing support. Around the 1:15 mark in this YouTube video pitching some Aristotle software, it touts a “briefing book” that can help you remember details about your supporters, like “spouse’s names, important birthdays, and interests,” to aid in your schmoozing.

And they’ll put together webs to help you visualize your network of supporters. Just don’t let that big donor know you have software that sometimes refers to him as a “node.”

But it’s the data mining and micro-targeting that’s the new, exciting frontier. “We are constantly developing and field-testing new products. At the moment, data-mining products are hot,” says Phillips. According to AzCapitolTimes, the idea of micro-targeting dates back about 10 years. Karl Rove was one its architects, resulting in a national database used by Republicans called the Voter Vault. The 2008 Barack Obama campaign led Democrats to create a rival, and some say stronger, database of their own, called VoteBuilder.


The insight of political microtargeting is this: that voters are just another kind of consumer, and a candidate is just another product to be sold. As one Republican microtargeter put it to AzCapitolTimes: “I’d be very surprised if country music listeners don’t get Republican messaging in their Pandora stream within the next year.”

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[Image: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.