All The President's Micros - View From America | Everygamegoing

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All The President's Micros - View From America

Published in Personal Computer News #053

View From America
All the President's Micros

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.

Every Social Issue

In this scenario most Americans are bored by the major issues of the day and never vote but are actualy quite excited by some other issues - a local housing tax, sex in high school library books, or packs of feral dogs roaming the countryside. By precisely targetting the appropriate votes the campaign's manager can motivate them to register and vote. Then, while they are about it, they'll likely vote for president and dog-catcher too.

In 1980 fundamentalist Christians, estranged from the electoral process for decades, were brought out in force by very successful computer drives that targetting abortion as their number one issue.

But the boom in micros implies that every social issue will soon be the object of targetting. Campaign management will become much more efficient; much less money will be wasted in delivering Whole Earth pamphlets to crusty female Republicans in their seventies, and phone banks will know just who to call on election day.

We should note that of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives 87 were won recently by five per cent or less of the vote. This is a point well taken by another software start-up called Campaign Software, which is selling its product to Republicans only.

Using this program to target the elderly, the Republicans won a State Senate seat in Fairfax County, Virginia, last November, by 337 votes. This was the first time a Republican had won there in over 100 years.

By itself micro software won't guarantee electoral success but in close fought races where finding a few hundred potential converts is all, it can offset all the television ads that money can buy.

Bearing in mind that non-voters have, by and large, been the poor, the young, and the disadvantages minorities, the advent of cheap but effective campaign techniques that can speak to them will revolutionise US politics at every level.

Peter Worlock