Microtargeting, Deterrence and Trump - A look into Channel 4's report on the Trump 2016 campaign

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The Channel 4 report on the strategy of the Trump 2016 campaign offers an insightful but ultimately depressing view into the realities of campaigning. Insightful insofar as it gives the public the chance to look over the mechanics of the vote generating machine. It offers a view into the precision and fine margins by which these campaigns are directed and ultimately won. As we are increasingly reminded, this is less so by individuals as it is swathes of data (a topic warranting an article of its own).

From the data which they obtained, channel 4 revealed that potential voters were put into eight categories; Core Clinton (who represented Hilary Clinton’s core support base) Core Trump (who represented the same for the eventual winner) Dead beat (those least likely to vote) Persuasion (those capable of swinging) Disengaged Clinton Disengaged Trump Gotv (acronym for 'get out to vote' - essentially those that were leaning towards him) Deterrence (potential voters who were to be encouraged not to vote at all)

Of those, the report places particular emphasis on individuals classified under 'deterrence' and looks into how the campaign hoped to influence those in this category not to vote. This is especially true for those based in swing states. Channel 4 claim that people in this group were specifically targeted through ads on Facebook and other platforms to discourage them from voting. It references Georgia, where despite black Americans making up only 32% of the population they also made up 61% of those targeted for ‘deterrence’. Likewise in North Carolina, despite only 22% of the population being black 46% were filed under deterrence. Finally, in Michigan the same rings true again; 15% of the people and 33% listed as deterrence. All in all, across the 50 states, this left 3.5million black Americans disproportionately targeted for ‘deterrence’ with the percentage of Black, hispanic and Asian voters targeted sitting at 54% of the total marked for deterrence.

More evidence is provided when considering the state of Wisconsin. The report highlights Trump's marginal success in the state by 23,000 votes (a differential of 0.77%). In his victory speech he boasted that black voters had helped him to win the state yet the figures show a steep decline in black turnout by close to 19%. This is especially true for Milwaukee, which witnessed half of the state’s decline in turnout.

In fact, despite Black voters in Wisconsin making up only 5.4% of the voter base in the state, they accounted for 17% of the deterrence group with 35% of those that eventually did vote having been classified as deterrence.

Particular focus is placed on Ward 116 in Milwaukee (in the state of Wisconsin) to highlight how the intended strategy may have had its effect. It is claimed that the Trump campaign had been aware of 1440 potential voters in the ward, 80% of whom were black and 44% of which were marked for deterrence. However, come election day, only 36% of black voters marked as ‘deterrence’ came out to vote, with turnout in the ward falling from 75% in 2012 to 56% in 2016. Context is of course important in this affair. The decline in turnout was preceded by stricter voter ID laws in the state, but the compounding effect of both these measures was evident once election day came through

The report also emphasises the sheer scale of the whole exercise. This is expected and comes with the cost to back it up too after the $2.4 billion spent across all campaigns in 2016 - $760 million of which was spent on the losing campaign alone. Alongside the $440 million spent on the Trump campaign, significant thought would have been dedicated to finding how to best make use of personal information on nearly 200 million voters (nearly ⅔ of all American’s)

The reality though is that it is very difficult to end the Channel 4 special without a bitter taste. If nothing else, the report which has been subject of widespread debate is a timely reminder of the importance of black American vote and participation across the board in the political process. It is a shame then that for some, it does not appear too high a price to pay for power.

Mayowa Ayodele

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