Days before US polls, parties fight for every single voter

They smoke you out. Well, not literally, but you get the idea, don't you? If you are a voter in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans will come for you. And come really hard.

You have to visit what is commonly referred to as the War Room at any of these two parties' headquarters in any of the states to understand how this works. Don't be fooled by the sense of quiet: that's only because almost everything is electronic. But you can feel the nervous energy as each staffer and volunteer - in both parties - plays his or her part in micromanaging this election.

Yes, micromanage is really the key word in American elections. You could also call it microtargetting. Every Presidential election is micromanaged, down to the last voter - literally so. And more so this time in 2012, than ever before. This means both parties know just about everything about every registered voter. Robert T Bennett, Chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio says, "If they knew how much information we have on them, they would be very upset.''

He isn't joking. He and his partymen and his rivals know who the voter's grandfather and father voted for, what is the value of the house he lives in, which church he goes to, how much mortgage he has, his position on various issues, social habits - and so on. This is information built over a significant amount of time, and it helps at election time to 'micromanage' that voter.

 Days before US polls, parties fight for every single voter

Volunteers for the Obama re-election bid work the phone lines to get out the voters. Reuters.

This makes it easier to 'personalise' campaign material for every individual voter. So each member of, say, a 5-member voter family gets a different email from the same party depending on what each individual's concerns are. A very different world from the poster culture of Indian elections, where one slogan, like one size, fits all.

I am inside the 'War Room' of the Ohio Democratic Party. Ohio is a key battleground state that may well decide who gets to become the most powerful man in the world. Little surprise that Chris Redfern, Chairman of the party since 2005, calls Ohio the most important state in the world.

Neither Bennett nor Redfern are apologetic about the intrusive aggressive manner of wooing the voter, knocking at his door till he votes. "It is an intimate relationship between the party and the voter,'' reasons Redfern. Bennett says it essentially means knowing who you are talking to, knowing how they will react to different issues and talking accordingly.

Parties mark each voter on a scale of 0 to 100 -  zero being someone who will certainly, certainly, vote for your rival, and 100 as the guy who will vote for you. The trick is to catch the voters from 2 to 99 and get them to vote for you. Republican party communications manager David Hopcraft has a simple formula on who should be microtargetted. "We ask if you are better off now in 2012 than in 2008. If his answer is No, then he is our target.''

Even on polling day on Tuesday, when they get the reports at noon of who has and who has not voted, they pursue the latter category, no matter what. "Hey, you got four more hours to vote'' would be the message he gets over a desperate phone call.

Apart from television advertising, both parties have invested a lot in direct mailing -  to tell the voters what an awful person the rival candidate is and why and how their candidate is an angel. Phone calls are another weapon. In Ohio, a state of 7.7 million registered voters, the Republicans claim to have made 3.5 million phone calls since May and 1.5 million door knocks. Not that the voters are interested. 78 per cent of those called over phone do not complete the conversation, admit the parties.

The micromanagement is also important because of early voting, that many states have adopted. Under early voting, voters can post their votes, instead of waiting till 6 November to vote. In Ohio for instance, voting started on 2 October which means it is more of an election month than an election day. Roughly 40 per cent would have voted before Tuesday. This helps the poll managers and the voters because as soon as the system shows a particular individual has voted, the chase is over. He or she will no longer get phone calls or knocks on the door or email, soliciting his vote.

Talk to any American on the street and he or she will tell you how much they are looking forward to Tuesday. No, not because they find D-day exciting but because this 'in your face' selfish love affair will come to an end. At least till 2016.

TS Sudhir is travelling in the US as part of an exclusive group of 25 journalists from 25 countries, to report on the Presidential Elections. The tour is being organised by the Foreign Press Center, US Department of State.

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Updated Date: Nov 03, 2012 10:04:13 IST