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The New York Times: Voter Profiles for Bloomberg Went Beyond Ethnic Labels
Published: November 15, 2005
Throughout this year’s mayoral campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s spending records included something called “voter list development.” It looked ominous to Democrats – especially as Mr. Bloomberg poured millions into it.
Lists like this usually include voters’ personal data – the magazines they buy, the cars they drive, their political affiliations. But as the cost of compiling Mr. Bloomberg’s list inched up toward $10 million, not even aides to President Bush, who perfected this sort of voter identification last year, could figure out where the money was going.
Now, speaking publicly for the first time about the behind-the-scenes details of their campaign – one of the most expensive in New York City history – Mr. Bloomberg’s aides have explained the mystery: rather than trying to read the tea leaves of public records to figure out voters’ tastes and leanings, they had the money to simply call and ask about them directly. They called hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in what top strategists in both the Republican and Democratic Parties said was one of the most ambitious pollings of an electorate ever undertaken.
They stored the answers in a vast computerized database to develop sophisticated psychological portraits of city voters – identifying eight never-before-identified voting blocs based on people’s shared everyday interests and concerns, not on their broader racial, cultural or ideological differences, aides said in interviews in the last few days.
The extensive polling gave Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign a deep understanding of the city’s voters, and allowed it to tailor mailings, electronic messages and prerecorded telephone calls to voters’ specific interests as never before, aides said.
“We sat down in February and said we wanted to do this campaign differently, we wanted to unify the city by looking at people who had common beliefs,” said Kevin Sheekey, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign manager. “We were not going to classify them by party or race; it was thought-based.”
With these new, multiethnic “thought-based” groups in hand, Mr. Bloomberg’s aides said they were able to transcend the traditional political fault lines of race, party and class that have been so crucial to city elections of the past, in the process developing a new model for running elections. This model, they maintain, could just as easily transcend the differences between red and blue states nationally in 2008. (The firm that created the system, Penn, Schoen & Berland, has Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as a client, and created embryonic versions of it for President Bill Clinton in 1996 and for Mr. Bloomberg in 2001.)
Among the groups were these:
FANS, or “Fearful and Anxious New Yorkers”: described as mostly lower- and lower-middle-income New Yorkers of all races whose lives are “utterly dependent on New York surviving.” They rely heavily upon the city’s social services, and, perhaps working as janitors or in the airports, they depend for their livelihoods on the city’s remaining financially stable and free from attack. “They were motivated by what I call security, broadly speaking,” said Douglas E. Schoen, who devised the database with his business partner, Mike Berland. “They do not just fear crime, they do not just fear another terror attack; it’s, ‘How do I keep my life secure in an uncertain time?’ ” These voters, many of them members of minorities, received messages that emphasized Mr. Bloomberg’s record in fighting crime and combating terrorism, as well as his record on job creation and health care.