It is almost impossible to turn on your television or computer these days without being buried under a pile of political campaign advertisements, whether they are for the presidential election or local races. If you live in a swing state, the ad barrage is even worse.
However, the campaigns are not sending you these ads at random. They are using data about your shopping habits, political affiliation, interests, gender and many other factors to specifically target those who they think can be swayed or motivated through political advertising.
One company that is in the business of personal data collection is Aristotle, a non-partisan company based in Washington, D.C. that feeds voter information to both the Romney and Obama campaigns. They have supplied information to every U.S. president since Reagan.
However, while targeting voters is nothing new in presidential campaigns, new digital technology means that campaigns can now target voters with pinpoint accuracy. Aristotle can screen potential voters for dozens of characteristics; everything from whether a person has children under the age of 18, to whether or not they like NASCAR. These traits may not have a direct relationship with how a person will vote, but they may be strongly correlated to particular voter blocs.
Aristotle can then plot this data on maps, telling campaigns which doors they need to knock on, which phones they need to call, and on whose computers to place specific ads.
1. Have you seen any political ads this election season? Where did you see them, and what did they say?
2. Why do politicians buy advertising space?
1. Do you think it is ok for companies to collect data like this on American voters? Why or why not?
2. How do you think companies like Aristotle know so much about us?
3. Do you think people change their minds based on political ads? Why or why not?