The Washington Post

Cruz’s suc­cess aided by big data

‘Psy­cho­graphic tar­get­ing’ helps send him to top tier

- BY TOM HAM­BURGER Real Estate · Immigration · Business · Society · Belarus · Belgium · Republican Party (United States) · Ted Cruz · Barack Obama · U.S. government · Iceland · Texas · Iowa · Donald Trump · Marco Rubio · Florida · New Jersey · Christopher J. Christie · Ohio · New Hampshire · Houston · Facebook · Austria · Las Vegas · Israel · National Rifle Association · Missouri · Cambridge · Massachusetts · United States of America · London · Ginny Brown-Waite · Liberty University · South Carolina · Washington · Urbandale, IA · University of Auckland · Des Moines · John Kasich · Republican Jewish Coalition · Cambridge Analytica · SCL Group · United States Federal Election Committee · Virginia

Ur­ban­dale, iowa — As Ce­cil Stinemetz walked up to a gray clap­board house in sub­ur­ban Des Moines last week wear­ing his “Cruz 2016” cap, a pro­gram on his iPhone was de­ter­min­ing what kind of per­son would an­swer the door.

Would she be a “re­laxed leader”? A “tem­per­a­men­tal con­ser­va­tive”? Maybe even a “true be­liever”?

Nope. It turned out that Birdie Harms, a 64-year-old grand­mother, part-time real es­tate agent and long­time Repub­li­can, was, by the Ted Cruz cam­paign’s cal­cu­la­tions, a “stoic tra­di­tion­al­ist” — a con­ser­va­tive whose top con­cerns in­cluded Pres­i­dent Obama’s use of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on im­mi­gra­tion.

Which meant that Stinemetz was in­structed to talk to her in a tone that was “con­fi­dent and warm and straight to the point” and ask about her con­cerns re-

gard­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­si­tions on im­mi­gra­tion, guns and other top­ics.

The out­reach to Harms and oth­ers like her is part of a months-long ef­fort by the Cruz cam­paign to pro­file and tar­get po­ten­tial supporters, an ap­proach that cam­paign of­fi­cials be­lieve has helped pro­pel the se­na­tor from Texas to the top tier among Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in many states, in­clud­ing Iowa, where he is in first place, ac­cord­ing to two re­cent polls. It’s also a mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar bet that such ef­forts still mat­ter in an age of pop-cul­ture per­son­al­i­ties and so­cial-me­dia mes­sag­ing.

So far, the Repub­li­can pri­mary sea­son has been dom­i­nated by Don­ald Trump, a businessma­n who is run­ning a race based al­most en­tirely on his per­son­al­ity and mass-me­dia ap­peal. The cam­paign of Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida has also placed a lim­ited em­pha­sis on the door-knock­ing tac­tics of the past, while oth­ers, such as New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich, are hop­ing that a strong fin­ish in the New Hamp­shire pri­mary will help them reach vot­ers through free me­dia cov­er­age.

Cruz has largely built his pro­gram out of his Hous­ton head­quar­ters, where a team of statis­ti­cians and be­hav­ioral psy­chol­o­gists who sub­scribe to the bur­geon­ing prac­tice of “psy­cho­graphic tar­get­ing” built their own version of a My­ers-Briggs per­son­al­ity test. The test data is sup­ple­mented by re­cent is­sue sur­veys, and to­gether they are used to cat­e­go­rize supporters, who then re­ceive spe­cially tai­lored mes­sages, phone calls and vis­its. Mi­cro­tar­get­ing of vot­ers has been around for well over a decade, but the Cruz op­er­a­tion has deep­ened the in­ten­sity of the ef­fort and the use of psy­cho­log­i­cal data.

Cruz, a critic of ex­ces­sive gov­ern­ment data col­lec­tion, has been no­tably ag­gres­sive about gath­er­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion for his cam­paign. Some of the data comes from typ­i­cal sources, such as vot­ers’ con­sumer habits and Face­book posts. Some is home­grown, such as a new smart­phone app that keeps supporters in touch while giv­ing the cam­paign the abil­ity to scrape their phones for ad­di­tional con­tacts.

An­other emerg­ing tac­tic that the cam­paign has em­ployed is “geo-fenc­ing,” a tech­nique that al­lows peo­ple to send mes­sages to dig­i­tal de­vices in nar­row ar­eas, such as a city block or a sin­gle build­ing.

When the Repub­li­can Jewish Coali­tion was meet­ing at the Vene­tian in Las Vegas in May, for in­stance, the Cruz cam­paign un­leashed a se­ries of Web-based ad­ver­tise­ments vis­i­ble only in­side the ho­tel com­plex that em­pha­sized Cruz’s devo­tion to Is­rael and its se­cu­rity.

Cruz has also ap­plied geo-fenc­ing to woo­ing Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers at a re­cent an­nual meet­ing and to sim­i­lar gath­er­ings else­where.

The per­son­al­ity and po­lit­i­cal scores ap­plied by the cam­paign are used to tightly tai­lor out­reach to in­di­vid­u­als. For ex­am­ple, per­son­al­i­ties that have re­ceived high scores for “neu­roti­cism” are be­lieved to be gen­er­ally fear­ful, so a pro-gun pitch to them would em­pha­size the use of firearms for per­sonal safety and might in­clude a pic­ture of a bur­glar break­ing in to a home.

But those who score high for “open­ness” or tra­di­tional val­ues are more likely to re­ceive a mes­sage that promotes hunt­ing as a fam­ily ac­tiv­ity, per­haps ac­com­pa­nied by an im­age of a fa­ther tak­ing his son duck hunt­ing.

Cruz’s cam­paign man­ager, Jeff Roe, spit chew­ing tobacco into a soft-drink bot­tle as he ex­plained cam­paign’s heavy in­vest­ment in data and anal­y­sis. It’s crit­i­cal be­cause of changes in the na­ture of the elec­torate, pop­u­lar me­dia, polling and cam­paign fi­nance law, which make many of the old ax­ioms of cam­paign­ing— gath­er­ing en­dorse­ments, pur­chas­ing high-cost broad­cast ads — less valu­able.

“There is no hand­book for this,” the Mis­souri-based po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant said of run­ning a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2016. “The con­ven­tional wis­dom has been de­stroyed. What you can do is rely on data.”

To build its data-gath­er­ing op­er­a­tion widely, the Cruz cam­paign hired Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a Mas­sachusetts com­pany re­port­edly owned in part by hedge fund ex­ec­u­tive Robert Mercer, who has given $11 mil­lion to a su­per PAC sup­port­ing Cruz. Cam­bridge, the U.S. af­fil­i­ate of Lon­don-based be­hav­ioral re­search com­pany SCL Group, has been paid more than $750,000 by the Cruz cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion records.

To de­velop its psy­cho­graphic mod­els, Cam­bridge sur­veyed more than 150,000 house­holds across the coun­try and scored in­di­vid­u­als us­ing five ba­sic traits: open­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness, ex­traver­sion, agree­able­ness and neu­roti­cism. A top Cam­bridge of­fi­cial didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, but Cruz cam­paign of­fi­cials said the com­pany de­vel­oped its cor­re­la­tions in part by us­ing data from Face­book that in­cluded sub­scribers’ “likes.” That data helped make the Cam­bridge data par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful, cam­paign of­fi­cials said.

The Cruz cam­paign mod­i­fied the Cam­bridge tem­plate, re­nam­ing some psy­cho­log­i­cal cat­e­gories and adding sub­cat­e­gories to the list, such as “stoic tra­di­tion­al­ist” and “true be­liever.” The cam­paign then did its own field sur the veys in bat­tle­ground states to de­velop a more pre­cise pre­dic­tive model based on is­sues pref­er­ences.

The Cruz al­go­rithm was then ap­plied to what the cam­paign calls an “en­hanced voter file,” which can con­tain as many as 50,000 data points gath­ered from vot­ing records, pop­u­lar web­sites, and con­sumer in­for­ma­tion such as mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tions, car own­er­ship and pref­er­ences for food and cloth­ing.

Cam­bridge, which has staffers em­bed­ded in the Cruz for Pres­i­dent head­quar­ters in Hous­ton, makes be­hav­ioral psy­chol­o­gists avail­able for con­sul­ta­tion as ads and scripts are drafted.

An email will be tweaked based on the per­son­al­ity of the re­cip­i­ent. If a re­spon­dent were a “stoic tra­di­tion­al­ist,” the con­ver­sa­tion would be very direct and to the point. If a po­ten­tial sup­porter was la­beled “tem­per­a­men­tal,” the lan­guage and ap­proach would change, ac­cord­ing to Chris Wil­son, the cam­paign’s di­rec­tor of re­search and an­a­lyt­ics, who has taken a leave from the polling firm he leads, WPA Opin­ion Re­search. “The tone would be in­spir­ing and be­come more and more pos­i­tive as the con­ver­sa­tion pro­gresses,” he said.

The Cruz cam­paign has also per­suaded nearly 34,000 supporters to down­load the “Cruz Crew” mo­bile app. Sub­scribers com­pete for points and prizes as they reach out to like-minded po­ten­tial supporters whose names are pro­vided af­ter the sub­scriber gives the cam­paign ac­cess to con­tact lists.

Other cam­paigns also of­fer apps to supporters, but few are as far-reach­ing as Cruz’s. Wil­son said he didn’t know what the cam­paign would do with the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion it gath­ered af­ter the elec­tion. “We will take great care,” he said, “know­ing that our supporters pro­vided this data to us for a lim­ited pur­pose.”

One key pur­pose of the Cruz cam­paign’s data fo­cus has been to con­nect the can­di­date to evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian vot­ers, who rep­re­sent an enor­mous bloc of cau­cus­go­ers in Iowa and are a ma­jor fac­tor in other early-vot­ing states. That’s part of the rea­son Cruz courted this group, start­ing with his an­nounce­ment speech at Vir­ginia’s Lib­erty Univer­sity in the spring.

In re­cent months, the Cruz cam­paign in­vited Chris­tian activists to join spe­cial prayer call-ins and ac­tivist coali­tions and to at­tend ral­lies in Iowa, South Carolina and other early states. The cam­paign’s per­son­al­ity and is­sues data was used to de­ter­mine which pas­tors to con­tact for re­cruit­ment as county “pas­tor chairs” for Cruz. So far, Cruz has en­dorse­ments from more than 100 pas­tors in Iowa and more than 300 na­tion­wide, cam­paign of­fi­cials said.

Roe said this kind of out­reach is part of a plan to mo­bi­lize the Cruz base in the same way Obama gal­va­nized his base in 2008 and 2012.

The cam­paign’s big data op­er­a­tion is not de­ployed in just voter and sup­porter out­reach. It also is used daily to help make key de­ci­sions — where Cruz should travel, what he should say. It has even in­formed the se­lec­tion of precinct cap­tains.

Last week, Cruz vol­un­teers in Iowa were call­ing peo­ple iden­ti­fied as ex­traverts to be precinct cap­tains and take on other lead­er­ship roles. Stinemetz went through his call list one evening and was pleas­antly sur­prised at how quickly peo­ple signed up.

“I got three precinct cap­tains to sign up just now,” Stinemetz said, af­ter di­al­ing just a hand­ful of po­ten­tial vol­un­teers. “It’s like they were just wait­ing for us to call.” Frances Stead Sell­ers in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

“The con­ven­tional wis­dom has been de­stroyed.

What you can do is rely on data.”

Jeff Roe, man­ager of Cruz’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign

 ?? MARK KAU­ZLARICH/REUTERS ?? Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) takes the stage dur­ing Sun­day wor­ship at Chris­tian Life As­sem­bly of God Church in DesMoines.
MARK KAU­ZLARICH/REUTERS Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) takes the stage dur­ing Sun­day wor­ship at Chris­tian Life As­sem­bly of God Church in DesMoines.

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