This Year’s Hotness: Finding And Monetizing Pissed Off Voters

reluctantheroimgEvery year, voter-targeting firms sell audience segments based on trending issues.

“We look into our crystal ball and think about what’s going to be big come November,” said Andrew Drechsler, CRO at the liberal data firm HaystaqDNA.

And this year, everybody’s crystal ball is showing the same thing: voters who are willing to split or abandon their party.

Call it the summer of our discontent.

“The unique thing about this election is that the candidates at the top of the ticket don’t have great favorability ratings among likely voters, so there’s unique opportunity to target unenthused voters,” said Mark Stephenson, founder and CEO of the conservative analytics firm Red Oak Strategic.

Gallup has measured every presidential candidate’s favorable rating going back 70 years, and no candidate has ever surpassed Barry Goldwater’s “highly unfavorable” score of 26% … until now. Hillary Clinton’s “highly unfavorable” rating is at 33%, while Trump’s 42% unfavorability sets a new high (or low?) since American polling began.

Capturing (and modeling) that frustration is turning into this cycle’s most lucrative prize. 

Audience Partners has been building and selling models for ticket splitters and drop-off voters – two distinct categories – to Democrats looking to poach off the margins and to Republicans who need to shore up a frayed coalition.

HaystaqDNA licenses predictive models to the political data firm L2, and its top-selling “2016 must-haves” feature a range of issues – like a Muslim ban on entering the US and a border wall with Mexico – meant to drive a wedge between some longtime Republicans and this year’s candidate. It even sells a model that splits self-identified Republican partisans into “proud to support Trump” and “uncomfortable supporting Trump.”

Deep Root Analytics, a conservative targeting firm, has been pitching models for “reluctant Republicans” and “disaffected Democrats,” according to multiple buyers.

It may be dark times for candidates whose base voters are cracking, but it’s a chance to shine for digital media buyers and targeting vendors.

“There’s strong reason to believe a decent segment of the Republican coalition that was well-consolidated under Romney may be available,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic firm TargetSmart.

And it isn’t just Republicans who need to stitch their bloc back together. Bonier said some campaigns are looking for Democratic primary voters who have been animated around trade and union issues, since working-class white voters index higher for Trump.

“That’s where data and modeling become so important, because those potential crossover voters are still needles in a haystack,” he said. The precision required to deliver the right message to only split voters – or even different breeds of potential aisle-crossers – is an opportunity unique to digital media, according to Bonier.

This year’s election will be “the first time there are swingable Republican voters that Democrats are spending money on,” said Jim Walsh, co-founder and CEO of the liberal ad tech firm DSPolitical, which started selling models specifically for Trump drop-off Republicans after the conventions.

“And you don’t have to spend a ton on TV, where maybe 5% or 10% of the Republicans watching the show are interested in your message,” he said. “The efficiency of digital targeting to slice that audience out of the coalition is something that hasn’t been seen before.”


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