Personalized Campaign Messages With Voter Profiling

June 30, 2017 - 6 minutes read

Have you watched the TV show, Sherlock, where Holmes uses cues from a person’s appearance to deduce details of their life and personality? The Science of Deduction, he calls it. It looks very impressive but often results in him meeting with resentment for being a creep. Mostly because it catches people off-guard by how accurate he is.

Of course, it’s not possible for all to be that perceptive, so there are some other ways to know more about a person. For decades, marketers have worked on profiling the audience. This helps them place their products addressing the needs of the people. These same methods are also accurate predictors of voting behavior and campaigns are using them to identify types of voters. Gone are the days of a single campaign poster. Based on the voter’s issues and interest, messages can be framed to help them identify with the campaign.

In recent years

You’ve probably heard of them being used in the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012. The Modi campaign of 2014 also used similar methods to place campaign ads for the Indian public. Brexit and the general election of UK and, across the pond, The Trump and Clinton campaigns all were heavily backed by voter data analysis.

Cambridge Analytica, a private company was involved in many of these large-scale campaigns. The company uses behavioral microtargeting to identify personality traits based on the OCEAN model (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism) developed by Michal Kosinski. For the 2016 US Presidential campaign, they identified 32 personality types in the population of the United States. The Trump campaign used the information in 17 states. The profiling system uses online behavior, Facebook likes and smartphone data to segment the public. Indicators like a person’s preference for cars were used to find potential Trump supporters and hit them with personalized messages. They could distinguish which message worked best and with which type of audience. The decision to shift the focus of the campaign to Michigan and Wisconsin during the final weeks was made through predictions using voter data.

personalized campaigns with microtargeting

How microtargeting works

This might all sound too complex but the basis of these types of analysis is a particular branch of psychology called psychometrics. Psychometrics measures personality traits, aptitudes and abilities to create profiles about the person. This, in turn, is used to answer questions about their voting habits.

The factors used in creating voter profiles are their age, address, party affiliation, ethnicity, religion and social behavior. The records of major political parties track all these about their citizens including their issues of interest and preferences. Clues about a person’s preferences come from their activity on mobile.

The incidents of a person making a decision (from a simple like on Facebook to considering who to vote for) are made in micromoments. These micromoments help guide a voter’s journey toward a particular candidate. Election micromoments happen when the voter sees a candidate’s ad addressing their local issue or answers a door to a volunteer.

Utilization in campaigns

Knowing the voter will help the candidate predict when these micromoments happen, present their position to reflect the voter’s needs and influence a swift support in the election.

As most campaigns have come to recognize, you have to be strategic in campaign efforts. Instead of focusing equal efforts all over, they target the undecided voters and voters in swing states. A voter who calls themselves “undecided” might even be a strong supporter of a particular candidate but not willing to divulge their view. They could even be someone who can be persuaded but disengaged at the moment.

A psychometric profile distinguishes which of these voters could be won over. Then it’s the matter of a personalized message affecting them on an emotional level to persuade them over. This has to be a continuous engagement over the entire campaign period. Just like a drug, the effect of a persuasion message does not last forever. They have to be kept in the loop. According to some campaign analysts, this effect lasts around three weeks before which they have to be touched during another micromoment.


So far these measures by digital campaigns have appeared to be successful in winning over voter support. Campaigns in countries like Sweden, Kenya and Malaysia have started adoption these microtargeting strategies. Even smaller campaigns can get started on building such voter profiles on their own. It’s the key to a campaign that can approach every voter on a personal level.

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