Opinion | Trump’s Digital Advantage Is Freaking Out Democratic Strategists – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Evan Vucci/Associated Press

“In a blog post published in November, a year before the 2020 election, Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote.org, a socially conservative advocacy group, announced that in Wisconsin alone his organization had identified 199,241 Catholics “who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days.”

Nearly half of these religiously observant parishioners, Burch wrote, “91,373 mass-attending Catholics — are not even registered to vote!” CatholicVote.org is looking for potential Trump voters within this large, untapped reservoir — Republican-leaning white Catholics who could bolster Trump’s numbers in a battleground state.

Burch, whose organization opposes abortion and gay marriage, made his plans clear:

We are already building the largest Catholic voter mobilization program ever. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. Our plan spans at least 7 states (and growing), and includes millions of Catholic voters.

How did Catholic Vote come up with these particular church attendance numbers for 199,241 Catholics? With geofencing, a technology that creates a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a cellphone enters or leaves a particular area — a church, for example, or a stadium, a school or an entire town.

Geofencing is just one of the new tools of digital campaigning, a largely unregulated field of political combat in which voters have little or no idea of how they are being manipulated, in which traditional disclosure requirements are inoperative and key actors are anonymous. It is a weapon of choice. Once an area is geofenced, commercial data companies can acquire the mobile phone ID numbers of those within the boundary.”

“The explosion of digital technology has created the opportunity for political operatives to run what amount to dark campaigns, conducted below the radar of both voter awareness and government oversight.

In some cases, the technology is very simple: the anonymous transmission of negative images of candidates by individuals to Facebook groups. This activity is neither reported to the Federal Election Commission nor linked to official campaigns.

Steven Livingston, a professor of media and public affairs and director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University, has been tracking this sub rosa electioneering in the current election cycle. He found that supporters of two candidates, Trump and Bernie Sanders, are the primary practitioners.

The Washington Post and The New York Times have both reported on the activities of Sanders supporters, but, Livingston noted in an email, “Our evidence suggests that Trump supporters use automated promotion or cross posting four times as much as Sanders supporters.”

David Lindsay:  Here is a comment that helped  put the bad news above into perspective:

WFGERSEN
Etna NH

The POTUS’ biggest advantage NOW is the circular firing squad underway among the Democrats, a phenomenon that will come to an end once a candidate emerges from the gun smoke. When that day comes, the anti-Trump animus will unite the Democrats in a way that did not happen in 2016 when the “conventional wisdom” saw HRC’s election as a foregone conclusion… and when the Democratic Party’s nominee emerges, rest assured that some of the DNC strategists know how to use digital technology to good effect and they will do so. There are miles to go before this election is over….

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