This year's presidential election is now well and trult off the launching pad and it has already been remarked in the media that never have American elections been more thoroughly computer-analysed.
To which I might add, You ain't seen nothing yet!
Of course, the presidency is the big one but there are another 492,000 elective offices in the US, including about 20,000 mayoralties and rather fewer dog-catchers. Many of these posts are fought for with an intensity that matches the presidential stakes. In addition some of them generate higher voter turn-outs.
One worrying aspect of the spread of modern campaign techniques - television, direct mail, phone banks and computerised polling - has been the ballooning cost of winning an election at a time when fewer and fewer people bother to vote. Now micros are running election-winning software and offering cheap 'smart' campaigns with precision targetting of voters.
For example there is Campaign Manager, a $750 package that runs on an IBM PC or Apple II+. So far more than 1,000 election campaigns have equipped themselves with Campaign Manager, which offers politicians the same soft of benefits that businessmen have already derived from software such as 1-2-3; building an election database, handling the budgets, searching out swing voters and sources of money.
In the 1983 mayoral campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, a black Democrat upset the ruling white Republican with computer-directed squads of volunteers who got out the black vote. City voter lists were first sorted by mainframe to target favourable neighbourhoods; then Campaign Manager on a PC compared voter turn-out to past performances and directed the volunteers to exactly those neighbourhoods where votrs were laggardly.
It is easy to see why Precision Targetting is being touted as one way to rouse the US from the democratic slumbers of the TV era.