Candidates still walk neighborhood streets and knock on doors for votes. But more of them these days are like Steve Hansen, a Sacramento city council candidate who knows a lot about his would-be constituents ... before he ever meets them.
"When we walk up and ask a question," Hansen says, "we may already have some answers."
The nuggets of information, and even the technology, are not that revolutionary. But what may be is the way all of it is being used, especially for campaigns on the local level.
"Campaigns are always more successful if they're able to target messages to voters that really resonate with those voters," said Democratic political consultant Paul Mitchell.
Mitchell, a Sacramento-based strategist, is one of the most prominent users of campaign micro-targeting strategies. Using publicly available data on voting, professions, and even marketing surveys, his team is able to map more and more voters into categories that help candidates tailor their messages.
"We can target people based on how they've acted and engaged politically," Mitchell said. "I really think that there's going to be huge value to it."
Strategists from both major parties are now compiling these nuggets of information for use in local, legislative, and congressional races -- the kind of data exploration that used to only be available in national campaigns.
The data allows specific messages delivered in person, by mailers, and by campaign phone calls. Optometrists support your candidate, says Mitchell? Why not ask those eye doctors to come in and call voters in the district who are also in their profession?
In the case of Hansen, the 32-year-old biotech executive in a crowded field of Sacramento city council candidates, the data has helped him locate voters who think like him on health care and social issues.
The existence of all of that data may raise privacy concerns for some, but political consultants say they don't sell the information to outside companies. They do, though, believe that with each election the data will get that much more rich -- and more precise about who voters are ... and what they care about.