By Tom Hamburger
As Cecil Stinemetz walked up to a gray clapboard house in suburban Des Moines last week wearing his “Cruz 2016” cap, a program on his iPhone was determining what kind of person would answer the door.
Would she be a “relaxed leader”? A “temperamental conservative”? Maybe even a “true believer”?
Nope. It turned out that Birdie Harms, a 64-year-old grandmother, part-time real estate agent and longtime Republican, was, by the Ted Cruz campaign’s calculations, a “stoic traditionalist” — a conservative whose top concerns included President Obama’s use of executive orders on immigration.
Which meant that Stinemetz was instructed to talk to her in a tone that was “confident and warm and straight to the point” and ask about her concerns regarding the Obama administration’s positions on immigration, guns and other topics.
The outreach to Harms and others like her is part of a months-long effort by the Cruz campaign to profile and target potential supporters, an approach that campaign officials believe has helped propel the senator from Texas to the top tier among Republican presidential candidates in many states, including Iowa, where he is in first place, according to two recent polls. It’s also a multimillion-dollar bet that such efforts still matter in an age of pop-culture personalities and social-media messaging.
So far, the Republican primary season has been dominated by Donald Trump, a businessman who is running a race based almost entirely on his personality and mass-media appeal. The campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has also placed a limited emphasis on the door-knocking tactics of the past, while others, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are hoping that a strong finish in the New Hampshire primary will help them reach voters through free media coverage.
Cruz has largely built his program out of his Houston headquarters, where a team of statisticians and behavioral psychologists who subscribe to the burgeoning practice of “psychographic targeting” built their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test. The test data is supplemented by recent issue surveys, and together they are used to categorize supporters, who then receive specially tailored messages, phone calls and visits. Micro-targeting of voters has been around for well over a decade, but the Cruz operation has deepened the intensity of the effort and the use of psychological data.
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