Whose Supporters Like Cheap Flights, 'The Daily Show' And Fracking?

Oct 19, 2015
Originally published on October 19, 2015 5:34 pm

People who want Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic presidential nominee are twice as likely to book travel reservations on Kayak or take that flight on budget carrier Spirit Airlines as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supporters.

They're also twice as likely to tune in to The Daily Show.

Clinton backers, on the other hand, are far more likely to use a Fitbit or other wearable device to track their activity levels. That's according to survey results a major collector of online data recently provided to NPR.

When it comes to policy, Clinton supporters are much more inclined to be satisfied with the current corporate tax rate. About 21 percent of Clinton backers say the current rate is appropriate, while only 1 percent of Sanders backers feel that way. About 33 percent of people who prefer Vice President Biden, should he enter the race, as the Democratic nominee are fine with the current corporate tax rate.

These are just a handful of differences that emerged in a recent online survey conducted by Resonate, one of the many companies that collect large swaths of data about our online browsing habits, shopping preferences and voting records; analyze that information; and sell their findings to political campaigns and companies.

Resonate recently provided data to NPR showing how people who prefer Clinton, Sanders and Biden differ when it comes to political views and personal habits.

This type of information — what sort of voters are likely to be found shopping or consuming media where — is critical for campaigns. They use it to identify, recruit and advertise to voters. In fact, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's campaign recently touted its "database of approximately 260 million individuals with about 2,000 data points" in a memo designed to deflect criticism that Bush's White House bid is struggling.

"Our data ... allows campaigns to think strategically about who they're speaking to, what they want to say to them, and then what they're going to try to get that person to do — what action they want them to take," explained Michael Horn, senior vice president and chief analytics officer at Resonate. (Note: Horn once worked on digital audience initiatives at NPR.)

"If all you want is to find people who are already Democrats, that's fine," said Horn. "But if you want to try to find swing voters — people who either don't belong to a party, or don't reliably vote for one party or another, you need some other way of understanding who is likely to be a swing voter."

Voters' and consumers' personal data have always been valuable to companies and political campaigns. As far back as the mid-20th century, campaigns collected personal information, such as magazine subscriptions, in an attempt to refine their messages.

But in recent years, as more and more of our lives have migrated online, it's become much more accessible, and also much easier to package, analyze and sell.

Like other companies, Resonate observes people's online habits by putting lines of code called cookies on websites. When you visit a site, the cookie gets attached to your browser. It then keeps tabs on the sites you go to and reports that information back to the company doing the tracking.

The company then goes one step further and recruits people it has observed to take part in massive online surveys, which ask about political beliefs, policy preferences, and brand habits. About 9,300 people took part in the survey quoted in this story. The information is made anonymous by the time it's passed along to campaigns and other clients — it's more about the habits and viewpoints of large chunks of people like you, not which websites you personally are browsing.

Resonate provided NPR with about 80 questions where the differences among Clinton, Biden and Sanders supporters were most acute.

Far more Sanders supporters — nearly 7 in 10 — are inclined to oppose the controversial Keystone XL pipeline than are Clinton or Biden backers.

One trend Biden advisers may want to take note of as the vice president contemplates a presidential campaign: On issue after issue, Biden supporters tend to be much more conservative — at least in the context of a Democratic primary — than respondents who back Clinton or Sanders.

Take energy: In addition to being less inclined to oppose the Keystone pipeline, Biden backers support coal-heavy energy policies, as well as the use of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — to extract oil and natural gas at much higher rates than Clinton or Sanders supporters.

Support for fracking isn't exactly rampant among Biden supporters — just 17 percent told Resonate they back the policy — but that's still a much higher figure than the 12 percent of Clinton supporters or 4 percent of Sanders backers who told the survey they support fracking.

In fact, while just 2 percent of Sanders supporters define themselves as "conservative" in the survey, almost 20 percent of Biden backers see themselves that way. "Blue Dog Democrats — I think that's where you see a lot of support [for Biden] coming in," said Horn. "The industrial Democratic belt. These are people who are Democrats because they're pro-union, but otherwise could be social conservatives, could be fiscal conservatives. They're single-issue voters sometimes, and that issue is labor politics."

If Resonate's data ring true, a potential Biden campaign would have to come at Clinton from the right.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Presidential candidates have always tried to mobilize voters. These days, they have more ways than ever to target those voters based on their interests. We're going to explore that today as part of All Tech Considered.

Just like every other advertiser, political campaigns want to know what we like, what we do online, where we shop, what we watch on TV. NPR's Scott Detrow covers technology and politics, and he has been learning about the data that one company is collecting on Democratic primary voters. Hey, Scott.

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SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. How's it going?

SHAPIRO: OK. So what have you learned?

DETROW: Well, I'm going to start here by asking you a couple questions.

SHAPIRO: Uh oh.

DETROW: (Laughter) So of all the people who support Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and, if he runs, Vice President Joe Biden, which group do you think is most likely to watch "The Daily Show?"

SHAPIRO: OK. So we're talking about different groups of Democratic voters. "Daily Show" viewers - I'm going to say Hillary Clinton supporters.

DETROW: They're up there. But actually, Bernie Sanders supporters - twice as likely.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I was about to say Bernie Sanders. OK, OK, all right.

DETROW: Another one, another one - there's one group of supporters. Only 1 percent of them think that the current corporate tax rate is an appropriate rate.

SHAPIRO: That's got to be Bernie Sanders.

DETROW: That is Bernie. Just 1 percent are fine with the corporate tax rate. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, about 20 percent of her supporters are OK with it. And Biden - it's actually about 33 percent say current level - it's all right.

SHAPIRO: OK, Scott, where is this information coming from?

DETROW: So there are all sorts of companies out there that make money by scooping up your personal information - where you browse online, where you buy things - processing it, analyzing it and selling it to campaigns and companies. This particular company, Resonate, does all of that online information, and on top of that, they conduct broad surveys where that ask thousands of people whose activity they've been tracking what candidates they prefer, what policies they like, you know, where they shop, things like that.

SHAPIRO: And after this company has all that information about people, what do the campaigns do with the info?

DETROW: They take that information, and they try to figure out the type of voter who's likely to vote for them and where they can find them to deliver the message that they want to deliver. You know, take Facebook for example. You can target ads more and more based on what people like, based on who people are friends with, based on where they live. You can deliver a different version of your advertising to a person based on all those dynamic. So as campaigns are able to kind of micro-target more and more, this sort of information about the universe of voters who might vote for them becomes more and more valuable.

SHAPIRO: Voter targeting is nearly as old as political campaigning. What's different about what you're describing in this election cycle?

DETROW: You're right. Campaigns have been doing this for years. I mean, in the mid-20th century, it was magazine subscriptions and, you know, when you bought a house in what neighborhood. But think about your life and think about just the last presidential election and now and how much more of your life you conduct online, how much stuff you buy through your phone, how you take your phone out to look what movie you're going to do, to look up the restaurant on Yelp, things like that. As we conduct more and more of our lives online, more and more in that information is really easily available to kind of scoop up and package and analyze and turn into modeling to say, OK, this is a person who might vote for Bernie Sanders, and here is X, Y and Z about how they conduct their lives.

SHAPIRO: And if people don't want to be tracked by campaigns in that way, is there anything they can do?

DETROW: It gets harder and harder. There's ad blocking that you can install in your web browsers. But the fact of the matter is when we're on the Internet, we're leaving all sorts of crumbs about our preferences, about our interests that are pretty available to scoop up. So I guess the shortest answer is, just stay off the web at this point in time.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Good luck with that. NPR's Scott Detrow covers technology and politics. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.