The Return of the Telephone

Today’s Times story on Mike’s big voter list stresses the novelty of the way the campaign sliced up the electorate for the purposes of targeting voters.

I’m slightly skeptical that they entirely banished race from this calculus — if you know any black people who got a mailing with Rudy’s picture on it, please let me know — but I think the broader story of the campaign isn’t about how novel it was, but about how traditional. Its key tools weren’t computers and databases; they were telephones and televisions.

From the start, Sheekey & co. rejected a lot of the gizmos that so fascinated the press in 2004: microtargeting based on commercial lists; Web-based campaigning and Internet ads; and equipping volunteers with Palm Pilots or other gadgets for gathering voter data and even showing people little videos on street corners.

Instead, the Bloomberg campaign used its vast resources to run a very traditional campaign: Its heart was massive media buys, targeted to ethnic and linguistic groups. Nobody had the money to do Mandarin television spots in the past; but the principle is not new.

As for the voter list, Mike did something similar in 2001. And the most important element of that list isn’t, necessarily, gauging voters’ positions on issues; it’s asking them whom they plan to vote for. That’s what any good City Council candidate would do: identify the likely voters in the neighborhood, and label them “1s,” “2s,” etc., based on whom they plan to support.

As Sheekey plays with the Mike ’08 meme — See you in New Hampshire! — perhaps it’s time for a feature on the return of a classic, almost retro piece of political technology: the telephone.

NOTE: A Bloomberg aide reminds me of one other not-so-novel campaign strategy, the ground game: They knocked on lots and lots of doors. The Return of the Telephone