How to Target Moderate Voters

Joe Mineo
March 30, 2021

There’s a lot to unpack from the 2020 election. Some states went red, some went blue, and despite what you think, it isn’t just because Democrats or Republicans signed up new voters and more voters than ever turned out for the election. The middle-of-the-road voters, or moderates, are almost always the people that decide elections, and that trend continued this cycle.

Breaking down the landscape

Let’s make it simple. If you open up a restaurant in your hometown and you tell your friends and family, you’re going to have a core set of customers that will buy your food, even if it’s the worst food on the planet. These are your party loyalists. They’re easy to predict, you know what they like, and year after year, line cooks may change, but again, they keep coming back for more. When it comes to selling dinners, you’re not going to spend a ton of advertising money on these people.

Next, we have the competition: people that walk or drive past your restaurant and denounce it as the worst restaurant in the history of restaurants. They proudly support the restaurant down the street that serves the food they like, and they can’t understand why anyone would eat at your place. These are your “un-persuadables.” Again, like with loyalists, you’ll never change their mind, so unless you like stirring the pot, it’s not worth spending any money advertising to them.

Last, we’re left with a fairly decent sized group of people in the middle. These are the people that have maybe never heard of your restaurant, tried it once and shopped around, heard about it but never tried it, or grew so sick of your competition’s food that they needed a change. These are your moderates. They’re the crown jewel to any business, because unless your loyal base is so wildly massive, you’ll need those moderate customers to buy your food and scale your restaurant. The exact same concept applies to politics.

How to target moderate audiences

Now that we’re good and hungry, let’s take a bite out of some information on how to reach and persuade your audience to buy your food… err, vote for your cause.

First, know that it’s never as easy as it looks. Think back to the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal and how everyone saw the company compiling all this psychoanalytical data on every human in America to swing an election. Was that completely unethical and horrible? Yes. Was it scalable? Some argue it was, but Democrats didn’t spend nearly as much time, money or effort adapting to digital marketing as Republicans did in 2016. According to the article linked, Hillary Clinton only spent $132,500 on digital, compared to $8.4 million from Donald Trump.

If a political party floods your feed with messaging that aligns with your core beliefs, there’s a chance it will strike gold. If there’s no balance in the force, the scale tips in favor of the highest bidder. Decisions are bought in the attention economy, and if you know where the valuable eyeballs are, your money will be spent well.

Second, know that dedicated research (or first-party data) is still the way to go… just do it ethically. Sure, what CA did was “research,” but behaviors change over time. Think back to how we described moderates in the example. They are people that “grew so sick of your competition’s food that they needed a change.” People change! What CA would have learned if they survived was that all that research would be garbage in four years, and they would have had to become a real research organization to keep up with Facebook’s ever-changing data landscape. I personally moved homes three times in a span of five years, have had probably four different cell devices, two laptops and a different internet provider every few years. If i was on anyone’s targeting list, they better refresh and start over. Without ongoing research conducted human to human with consistent methodology, your 4-year-old curated email lists are likely bunk.

Third, don’t shy from interests. With restaurants, that can be a no-brainer. Target people who like tacos, or sandwiches, or even whipped ricotta over a rich, saucy tortellini bake. With advocacy or politics, the line blurs a little, but always remember that big businesses usually stand for causes they care about.

Take Hobby Lobby and Target, for example. In 2014, Hobby Lobby won a landmark ruling which allowed them to opt out of paying for birth control for their employees, which upholds their conservative beliefs. In 2020, Target released a statement committing $10 million to social justice efforts in the wake of the George Floyd protests, upholding their more liberal beliefs. Media companies like FOX (more conservative) and CNN (more liberal) are a little more obvious with their positions, but if you’re following, you can see the pattern. Excluding firebrand companies from interest targeting can help you find people that sit in that middle ground.

Last, and likely most of all, is location, location, location. If you have nothing else on your audience list, location can be the prime driver of your efforts for a successful campaign. Swing states often emerge due to the well-timed, sustained efforts of one party to change hearts and minds over four years. Any state can be a swing state in a crisis, and as we saw with Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, moderate communities can swing the tide of a whole election. Michigan and Pennsylvania have especially struggled without their industrial economies, so those states will continue to be favored advocacy locations for years to come.

Politics are just a fancy, belief-driven business. The goal is to persuade people to support their causes, and if enough people support, their business succeeds. Like selling dinners, they want to win over the people who haven’t tried their famous lasagna, or are looking to try a new desert that the competition doesn’t have (looking at you, Burger King Bacon Sundaes). It’s going to ebb and flow cycle after cycle, but with strong research and a sound tactical strategy, just like any other business, moderates will help you thrive.