NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars to get inside the head of every New York City voter, hundreds of thousands of whom will get pre-recorded "robocalls" narrowly targeted to appeal to their tastes and urging them to get out and vote.
Chinatown residents older than 45, for example, could get a call that is two-thirds Chinese and one-third English. Younger voters would hear more English with a bit of Chinese. Caribbean-American voters could get calls in English, but with a Caribbean lilt.
Those who live in large apartment complexes might hear a recording of their building manager or a well-known resident. New Yorkers who live in liberal, politically active neighborhoods like Brooklyn's Park Slope could get a call from the leader of Planned Parenthood or another group that advocates for a Democratic issue.
It is one of the highly meticulous ways that the Bloomberg operation is using its extensive voter database to contact New Yorkers before the Nov. 3 election and part of why the billionaire mayor has already managed to spend $85.2 million on his campaign.
Automated calls to get out the vote are nothing new in political campaigns, but the Bloomberg campaign's specificity is rarely seen at the local level. Campaign officials estimate they will have 75 calls reaching 890,000 people.
Most campaigns "would do between five and 10 calls," says veteran Democratic strategist George Arzt.
"Everything in the mayor's campaign is done to excess," he said. "You will never have another campaign like this."
Bloomberg is not a member of any party but is running on the GOP and Independence Party lines. Polls show him comfortably ahead of his opponent, Democrat William Thompson Jr.
"We are thinking really, really local," said Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk. "We try to make it really relevant to every single community."
Campaigns typically record automated calls using the candidate's voice or a celebrity endorser. Thompson is using that method; he plans about 10 versions of calls.
Bloomberg is using big names, too – former Mayor Ed Koch among them. But the mayor's campaign sees more value on using people who have local appeal. The Chinatown calls are being recorded by Justin Yu, the president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, who is known as the "mayor of Chinatown."
"We try to talk to voters not only in their language, but also through validators that they really care about," said Maura Keaney, who runs field operations for the Bloomberg campaign.
And how do they know what matters to each voter? Using an approach known as microtargeting, the Bloomberg campaign collects comprehensive information about voters and uses that to build profiles to predict what messages might appeal to them.
Microtargeting involves gathering bits of information like whether voters own a home or have children in college, what kind of car they drive, income and educational background, what kind of computers they use, what they watch on television, which magazines they read, and whom they supported in past elections.
That information is then supplemented by data gathered from conversations with voters during phone calls and door-to-door canvasses. All the pieces create pictures of every person that are used to predict appealing messages in mailings and other ads, plus what it will take to get each to come out and vote.
As of Oct. 13, Bloomberg campaign canvassers had knocked on 1 million doors. The campaign predicts a low turnout of some 1.4 million voters on Nov. 3, out of more than 4.5 million registered voters.
Microtargeting is common in presidential and gubernatorial elections but is not seen in municipal races, according to Alex Gage, founder of TargetPoint Consulting, which is credited with its pioneering use of the tactic to help President George W. Bush win re-election in 2004.
Barack Obama expanded on the concept in 2008 to broaden his electorate, identifying millions of unregistered voters and motivating them with targeted messages.
Bloomberg enlisted Doug Schoen, an adviser to former President Bill Clinton, to build his database in 2001 and 2005, spending more than $10 million on the effort in 2005.
This year the mayor hired Ken Strasma, who was Obama's national targeting director in 2008, to take over the work for his third-term campaign. Bloomberg has spent more than $2.3 million refining and adding to his database this year.
Thompson relies on the Voter Activation Network, which uses information provided by the Democratic National Committee to create a national voter database. State parties can then give local candidates access to the information, founder Mark Sullivan said.