More than in any other race to date, Americans may experience the 2012 presidential election through precisely targeted phone calls, visits, tweets and Facebook posts — messages not from the candidates themselves, but from their own politically active friends.
If those messages come, they won't be random. As campaigns become more savvy about their data on supporters and voters, they are also becoming more and more sophisticated in the way they plan voter contact. This is already leading to new tools, like one built by NGP VAN and used in an ongoing labor campaign, that don't just encourage users to spread the message of a campaign — they help each supporter make a data-driven decision about who to contact.
The union-backed We Are Ohio campaign, organizing against changed collective bargaining laws in Ohio, uses a tool built by NGP VAN that serves as a prime example of this kind of strategy. Users who visit the tool, accessible via a web interface, can build a list from among their Facebook friends by logging in with their account. (They can also type names in one at a time.) As they identify people they'd be willing to reach out to, the tool checks an NGP VAN voter database for an existing record of that person's name, phone number and voting status. When the user has a list of the right kinds of people to call, the tool then presents the user with each voter's phone number and a script.
"We know that messages coming from your friends or your family are more powerful," Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, told me Monday. At We Are Ohio, this tool is called the "friends and family program" — and it taps into the personal connections of thousands of supporters, she said.