"That ability for niche groups, such as the Sierra Club, to communicate only with people likely to support their cause didn't exist four years ago," says Patrick Ruffini, president of Engage DC, a firm that handles online advertising and analytics work for the Republican National Committee and individual Republican candidates.
In search of the like-minded
Many of the voters the Sierra Club wants to reach aren't in its own member database, so Duvall works with Catalist, a consortium of progressive organizations that maintains a 500-terabyte database of information describing both registered and unregistered U.S. voters.
"Our database is about civic behavior and transactions, what issues you care about, what causes you support, whether you tend to vote or not, and so on," says Catalist CEO Laura Quinn.
Catalist matches up the Sierra Club's member database with its own data and provides access to the full database, which combines state voter registration lists with commercial consumer data that includes demographic (race, gender, age, income) and psychographic (interests, hobbies, lifestyles) information on individuals and households. Catalist buys commercial consumer data from traditional data aggregators and reporting agencies such as Acxiom and Equifax. Voter lists come from the states.
For those states that don't release voter registration data, Catalist has developed models that predict, at the household level, who is likely to be Republican or Democrat and how they're likely to vote -- something it couldn't do in 2008. "Our database is about civic behavior and transactions, what issues you care about, what causes you support, whether you tend to vote or not, and so on," says Catalist CEO Laura Quinn.
Yair Ghitza, senior scientist at Catalist, explains further: "Our clients determine the likelihood that someone is going to vote, care about certain issues or has leanings on certain issues, their partisanship and ideologies, and the actions they're most likely to engage in when they take civic action," he says.
Aristotle Inc. offers a similar service to trade associations and campaigns, including both presidential campaigns, according to CEO John Aristotle Phillips. Its database of more than 700 data fields, which describe the traits of more than 85 million registered voters, is used for both fundraising and get-out-the-vote initiatives.
"What we're seeing in 2012 is much more effective use of real-time access" to databases about voters, says John Aristotle Phillips, CEO of Aristotle Inc.