Data Unravels Voters' Political DNA

You can hear it in the woods outside Cleveland — it's hunting season, and not just for big game or water foul, but for voters like Ryan Martin, CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

"Every two years," Martin says, he knows it's coming. "And every four years it's that much worse," he adds.

That's when he and his mailbox are stalked by the Republican Party, all because of his gun and his Chevy.

"If you're a Wall Street Journal subscriber, and you drive a Chevy and you own a gun, there's a good chance you're Republican," says Chris McNulty, a Republican strategist.

Welcome to micro-targeting, a data-mining technique Madison Avenue executives have been using to snag customers for decades. It takes all the particulars of our lives — where we live, how much we earn, our education level, even the magazines we read — and feeds it into computers, which then produce lists of citizens likely to be most receptive to "sales pitches" from either Democrats or Republicans.

"It works. There's a reason why people get mailed what they get mailed," McNulty says.

Micro-targeting is all about unraveling a voter's political DNA, including data such as where people shop. The data suggests Target customers are more likely to be Democrat, while Wal-Mart shoppers tend to be Republican.

Republicans also like bourbon, but Democrats prefer gin. Even a voter's morning cup of coffee is figured into the equation: Starbucks drinkers lean left, while Dunkin' Donuts patrons lean more right.

The Republicans say micro-targeting played a big part in getting George Bush re-elected in Ohio the last time around.

Democrats are now catching on. One neighborhood outside Cincinnati usually votes about 70 percent Republican. But Democrats are campaigning there anyway.

Chris Gafney, a Democratic strategist, says it's not quite enemy territory — "we like to think of them as misguided friends," he quips.

The micro-targeters don't go to every house, just the ones their computer has determined might be Democrat-friendly.

It's not a perfect science. There are plenty of Target-shopping Republicans and rifle-toting Democrats. However, both sides agree that micro-targeting is better than a shotgun approach to politics, especially when the races are tight and both sides need a secret weapon.