by Nicholas Acocella
Polls, Pols, and Power: The Computer on the Hustings by Nicholas Acocella Politicians have been running for whatever office is available for as long as democracy has been around. lt's the nature of the beast. Recent innovations in computer technology, while not noticeably affecting the volume of political activity, have created a paradox in modern campaigning, making it, at the same time, more complex and more simple. On the one hand, political campaigning, like everything else in American life, has become a matter for specialists engaged in sophisticated pursuits not readily understood by the layman. At the same time, campaigning would have grown more complex even without the advent of computers, which seem to be part of the solution to the problem they simultaneously helped create. At any rate, the ward heelers of yesteryear, with their derby hats, cigar stubs, and local accents,have yielded their places in the average campaign headquarters to specialists retained for their technical expertise rather than for their first hand knowledge of conditions in the third ward. This new breed tends to be younger, more modestly dressed, and better educated than the precinct captains they pushed aside-the inflections of Harvard and The University of Chicago supplanting those of South Boston and the South Side of Chicago. But-not so remarkably-they are trying to do the same things the old timers did less scientifically and more intuitively. They are raising money, categorizing voters, identifying voter opinions, and determining voter preferences: the things all campaigners have to do in all elections regardless of the methods used. [image]"lt threw up when I programmed it to select the most honest political candidate." *CREATIVE COMPUTING Fund Raising Fund Raising: "Money is the mother's milk of politics," once observed Jess Unruh, the one-time Big Daddy of California politics. And he was right. You can't run a political campaign without money any more than you can run an automobile without gasoline. ln the old days you sent a friendly lawyer down to the local courthouse to corner other sympathetic members of the legal fraternity into signing $50 and $100 checks. Or you rounded up the fat cats for whom you either have done or might do a favor; they usually came through. Today a campaigner, while he probably will not reject the first of these alternatives, simply doesn't have the second option because of campaign financing reform laws. Instead he will probably go to a direct response fund raising firm. These firms stockpile computer files of past and potential contributers to campaigns. A candidate with a large environmental point to make will seek a fund raiser who has access to membership lists of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and similar organizations. Candidates with heavy liberal credentials will use one who has the ADA and ACLU membership lists. Governor George Wallace of Alabama has virtually perfected this technique, raising millions of dollars in small contributions from "just folks" over the years. The variations within this arrangement are virtually unlimited. Some fund raisers-like Richard A. Viguerie, lnc., of Washington, who works only for extremely conservative candidates-are ideological. Others will accept offers from candidates within a wide range of the political spectrum, while reserving the right to reject the few candidates with whom they disagree entirely. Some lists are finely honed compilations of names of those who have already contributed to the candidate (or those like him). Others are less selectively compiled, including people who are likely to contribute to a campaign of a particular stripe. Still others are even more inclusive, containing names of those who might contribute. Cost, on a per name basis, often depends upon the degree of selectivity. Naturally, returns on more generalized lists are lower. Prospecting from such lists will bring in contributions from anywhere between 1 and 3 percent of those solicited. Such an endeavor simply isn't cost effective unless letters are printed (rather than computerized), in which case a run of labels is all a finance committee needs. A purged or specialized list-perhaps consisting of contributors from the candidate's previous campaigns or from respondents to a prospecting mailing-deserves more Articles by Mr. Acocella have appeared in Campaign Insight. Model's Circle, New York Affairs. Fodor's Travel Guides, and five books on sports.