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Three Things We Don’t Know About Obama’s Massive Voter Database

Memo Pad Politics

Three Things We Don’t Know About Obama’s Massive Voter Database


by Lois Beckett, ProPublica.

President Obama’s re-election campaign is reportedly building a massive database of information about potential supporters.

The database seems to bring together information about supporters gathered from all branches of the campaign — everything from an individual’s donation records to volunteer activity to online interactions with the campaign — aimed at allowing the campaign to personalize every interaction with potential supporters.

Earlier this month, we built an interactive graphic showing how different Obama supporters received different variations of the same email  — one way that the campaign may be using data to personalize messages.

We can’t describe the Obama campaign’s database with certainty because the campaign won’t talk about it. Citing concerns about letting Republicans learn its tactics, the campaign declined our request for comment — as it has with other outlets — about what data the campaign collects and what it’s doing with the data. The campaign did emphasize that, regardless of what information it gathers, it has never sold voter data or shared its voter database with other candidates.

Here’s a guide to what we know — and don’t know — about the information Obama is collecting about voters.

1. What information is the campaign collecting about individual supporters?

We know only some of the data it’s collecting, but it is clearly collecting a lot.

The Obama campaign has hired a corporate data-mining expert, Rayid Ghani, to serve as its “chief scientist.” Ghani has previously researched how to use a retailer’s record of customer purchases to predict what a particular customer will buy during a given shopping trip — the same kind of data crunching that Target has apparently used to predict whether shoppers are pregnant. The campaign is continuing to hire “analytics engineers” and other data experts.

Some of the most important data that campaigns need are already public. State voter files include voters’ names, addresses and voting histories. Campaigns don’t know whom you voted for. But they know when you voted, when you didn’t and, in some states, your race and party registration.

The Obama campaign website asks supporters for basic information, starting with your email address and ZIP code. If you sign up for an account on the site or register as a volunteer, you may also be asked for your mailing address, phone number and occupation.

But the campaign’s privacy policy says the campaign has the right to gather far more — information about how you use the campaign website, such as what you click on and which pages you view; data about how you interact with campaign email messages; and personal information you submit as part of blog comments, interactive forums or contests and games on the campaign’s websites.

Logging on to BarackObama.com using Facebook gives the campaign permission to access your name, profile picture, gender, networks, list of friends and any other information you have made public.

How much information is the campaign tracking and connecting back to you? The campaign won’t give an overarching answer to that.

That doesn’t mean it is tracking everything. For instance, the campaign website features an interactive graphic that allows users to see how the health-care reform law might benefit them. To do so, users click through several options, selecting whether they have private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or no insurance at all, how many people are in their families, and what their annual household incomes are.

According to the campaign’s privacy policy, the campaign may track how individual users interact with the campaign website. But the campaign said that none of the information entered into the health-care interactive site was linked back to individual supporters.

It’s worth noting that, as many websites do, the campaign also works with third-party ad vendors that use web cookies to track your browsing online. This enables them to serve you ads on different sites — and to target their ads based on the sites you visit.



  1. ObozoMustGo March 28, 2012

    The Memo should be so concerned about the data that they have on people who are NOT Obozo supporters. Just sayin….

    1. John March 29, 2012

      And I will almost bet that you back the comments and ideas of limbaugh too.

  2. John March 29, 2012

    When you look at the field that Obama is going up against, anybody who doesn’t vote Democrat should be taken out to the wood shed and given a good beating. BECAUSE IF U VOTE FOR ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE BUT OBAMA YOU SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A TRAITOR TO THIS GREAT NATION. The Repubs will do what ever it takes to make him look bad and go away, EVEN IF WHAT HE IS PROPOSING IS GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE NATION. EVEN TO THE POINT OF TAKING THIS GREAT NATION DOWN THE SH&T HOLE!

  3. Maricia12 March 29, 2012

    So how is this different from any other web site accessing our information. The Republicans do the same thing with those listed as Republicans on the national voting Registration files. My husband, who no longer votes Republican, is still registered as one. He gets e-mails and regular mail from those Republican’s running for office all the time. He does not get the same from Democrats running for office. Anyone using facebook knows allowing anyone into your personal page gives them permission to read your infomation unless you restrict them from certain areas. Is there really any place our personal information is private? Our Doctor’s use our social security number as our record number, financial institutions sell much of our information, we cannot subscribe to cable without giving our social security number and so it goes for almost everything. Anyone can pay a few bucks and get almost any info on anyone they want via the net. You can type in a name and get a person’s address and how much they paid for their home. WHAT is the big deal with sounding as if you are accusing Obama of something devious when the Republicans are masters at this kind of thing.? I would say they are just ticked off because they did not get to it first. The right wing has made destroying President Obama their only goal. All they can come up with are lies with no substance. His policies that help more Americans are viewed as evil. The President has done absolutely NOTHING that resembles evil in anyway. If anything, he has tried his best to compromise his policies to include the desires of the Republicans. I would rather see him just shut them out as they do him but then he is a much better person than I am.


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