City candidates work to get voters to polls

Citywide candidates' get-out-the-vote efforts are in overdrive as months of painstaking canvassing by rival campaigns to find likely supporters culminate in a push to make sure they show up at the polls.

Only a sliver -- roughly 10 percent of the city's 3.7 million registered Democrats and Republicans -- usually vote in primaries, so the campaigns for mayor, comptroller and other offices have thousands of workers and volunteers identifying and reaching out to them.

Their efforts mix old-fashioned shoe leather with high-tech computer algorithms borrowed from the cutting edge of 21st century marketing.

Data sets -- the magazines voters read, where they shop, their favorite genres of music, the radio stations they listen to, their gender, race, income and ethnicity -- are used to develop custom voter profiles.

Also key are records of political donations and especially how often individuals have voted in primaries. The profiles help campaigns decide whom to target, how and how often, said officials from two citywide campaigns that use such practices and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The campaigns often start by surveying likely voters to find their surest supporters. Then they work backward to figure out which characteristics, such as demographics and even seemingly irrelevant traits such as music tastes, indicate other voters are potential supporters.

No campaign would discuss such methods for attribution. But disclosures to the city's Campaign Finance Board show that veterans of Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, which perfected the techniques, are working on citywide races.

For example, comptroller hopeful Eliot Spitzer hired HaystaqDNA, founded by Obama staffer Michael Simon. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has AKPD, a firm founded by Obama adviser David Axelrod and now run by Larry Grisolano, also a senior Obama staffer. AKPD does media buys as well as data-driven marketing. The de Blasio campaign did not return calls for comment on how it was being used.

Other campaigns did not return calls or declined to comment.

All major campaigns keep records of every interaction with a voter, all with the goal of turning verbal support into pulling the lever at the polling site. That means certain or likely supporters are hit with emails, door knocks, postal mailings, phone calls, social media contacts, offers of a ride to the polls, or a combination of techniques, just before the election.

Data vendors include political consultants such as Jerry Skurnik, whose firm, Prime New York, sells voter information for about $20 to $40 per 1,000 voters. This season, Skurnik says, he has sold to multiple campaigns.

To focus the targeting of campaign materials, raw voter rolls from the city Board of Elections are run through an ethnic-name dictionary to guess a voter's ethnicity, and are sometimes coupled with details from the census and data brokers such as Acxiom and Experian for lists of pet owners, religious donors, renters or homeowners, and public housing residents.

Then, armed with the data, the boots hit the ground from the campaigns and allied groups, such as labor unions.

Democrat City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has a volunteer corps of 2,000 -- students, interns and more -- who have knocked on doors 1.5 million times and made more than a million phone calls, said campaign spokesman Mike Morey.

Everyone identified as a Quinn supporter, or even as voicing a leaning toward Quinn, will be contacted at least once more by Tuesday.

In Republican Joe Lhota's campaign office, giant maps of the city's election districts hung on the walls, showing Michael Bloomberg's 2009 percentage of support in each election district.

The data are key to rallying the small portion of the city's population that will choose the Republican nominee, which could be as small as 50,000.

"It's a little bit of an art and it's a little bit of a science," Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud said.

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