ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Presidential candidates have always tried to mobilize voters. These days, they have more ways than ever to target those voters based on their interests. We're going to explore that today as part of All Tech Considered.
Just like every other advertiser, political campaigns want to know what we like, what we do online, where we shop, what we watch on TV. NPR's Scott Detrow covers technology and politics, and he has been learning about the data that one company is collecting on Democratic primary voters. Hey, Scott.
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SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. How's it going?
SHAPIRO: OK. So what have you learned?
DETROW: Well, I'm going to start here by asking you a couple questions.
SHAPIRO: Uh oh.
DETROW: (Laughter) So of all the people who support Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and, if he runs, Vice President Joe Biden, which group do you think is most likely to watch "The Daily Show?"
SHAPIRO: OK. So we're talking about different groups of Democratic voters. "Daily Show" viewers - I'm going to say Hillary Clinton supporters.
DETROW: They're up there. But actually, Bernie Sanders supporters - twice as likely.
SHAPIRO: Oh, I was about to say Bernie Sanders. OK, OK, all right.
DETROW: Another one, another one - there's one group of supporters. Only 1 percent of them think that the current corporate tax rate is an appropriate rate.
SHAPIRO: That's got to be Bernie Sanders.
DETROW: That is Bernie. Just 1 percent are fine with the corporate tax rate. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, about 20 percent of her supporters are OK with it. And Biden - it's actually about 33 percent say current level - it's all right.
SHAPIRO: OK, Scott, where is this information coming from?
DETROW: So there are all sorts of companies out there that make money by scooping up your personal information - where you browse online, where you buy things - processing it, analyzing it and selling it to campaigns and companies. This particular company, Resonate, does all of that online information, and on top of that, they conduct broad surveys where that ask thousands of people whose activity they've been tracking what candidates they prefer, what policies they like, you know, where they shop, things like that.
SHAPIRO: And after this company has all that information about people, what do the campaigns do with the info?
DETROW: They take that information, and they try to figure out the type of voter who's likely to vote for them and where they can find them to deliver the message that they want to deliver. You know, take Facebook for example. You can target ads more and more based on what people like, based on who people are friends with, based on where they live. You can deliver a different version of your advertising to a person based on all those dynamic. So as campaigns are able to kind of micro-target more and more, this sort of information about the universe of voters who might vote for them becomes more and more valuable.
SHAPIRO: Voter targeting is nearly as old as political campaigning. What's different about what you're describing in this election cycle?
DETROW: You're right. Campaigns have been doing this for years. I mean, in the mid-20th century, it was magazine subscriptions and, you know, when you bought a house in what neighborhood. But think about your life and think about just the last presidential election and now and how much more of your life you conduct online, how much stuff you buy through your phone, how you take your phone out to look what movie you're going to do, to look up the restaurant on Yelp, things like that. As we conduct more and more of our lives online, more and more in that information is really easily available to kind of scoop up and package and analyze and turn into modeling to say, OK, this is a person who might vote for Bernie Sanders, and here is X, Y and Z about how they conduct their lives.
SHAPIRO: And if people don't want to be tracked by campaigns in that way, is there anything they can do?
DETROW: It gets harder and harder. There's ad blocking that you can install in your web browsers. But the fact of the matter is when we're on the Internet, we're leaving all sorts of crumbs about our preferences, about our interests that are pretty available to scoop up. So I guess the shortest answer is, just stay off the web at this point in time.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Good luck with that. NPR's Scott Detrow covers technology and politics. Thanks, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you.
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