NBC: Data Deal Isn't Partisan, but the 'Ultimate Independence'

Network Will Use Data From Democratic Firm Much Differently Than a Political Party Would

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Some call it blatant partisanship, but NBC's Director of Elections John Lapinski sees the broadcaster's relationship with Democratic voter data firm TargetSmart as anything but. Yesterday the two companies announced a partnership allowing NBC and its team of academic data lab researchers access to the same publicly-available information TargetSmart provides to political campaigns and organizations on the left.

The information, which includes data on all 190 million Democratic, Republican and independent registered U.S. voters, will be ingested by NBC researchers analyzed, and used as the basis of reports throughout the 2016 election season.

"We all use publicly available data aggregated with consumer data that anyone could purchase to make decisions about campaign strategy. There is no bias in the data, only in how people spin it," said TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier. "The only thing that has stopped media outlets from doing this themselves is the herculean task of collecting and maintaining these datasets."

Conservative site Breitbart questioned the ethics of the relationship, suggesting NBC's deal with TargetSmart "further weaponizes" the broadcaster on behalf of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. A Mediaite opinion piece chalked up the deal to NBC's "liberal bias."

"I know it's going to be taken a certain way by partisan media, but our intent all along is, let's get on an even playing field," said Mr. Lapinski, also an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. "We're going to have the data that campaigns have and we're going do our own analyses…. I think of it as the ultimate independence." He stressed the people on his research team have no history of working with political parties.

TargetSmart and data services firm Experian in August announced a partnership with the Democratic National Committee to turn the Party's voter file into data that can be used readily to aim digital video ads, addressable TV spots and mobile and desktop display ads at specific voters. The basic voter information TargetSmart has, like that of similar firms on both sides of the aisle, is publicly available and comes from secretaries of state offices across the country. The data firms compile and update the information regularly, layering in enhanced demographic or psychographic data and scores that rate the likelihood for voters to support specific candidates or hold certain stances on issues.

"We're also interested in just a lot of stuff that's non-partisan," such as the casting of provisional ballots, added Mr. Lapinski. The data deal, which makes NBC the exclusive media partner of TargetSmart, could help NBC shed light on inaccurate statements about voters made by agenda-driven campaigns, he said.

Mr. Lapinski's team of around eight PhDs and data scientists currently are determining the best way to store and manage the data that TargetSmart will provide. The company's clients typically access its data through technology platforms geared towards political-campaign purposes, such as generating call lists for volunteers or helping to target emails to likely donors.

NBC's goals, however, are far different. The media outlet might analyze the data to learn and report things about people who have voted in the past during GOP primaries, for example. He said viewers can expect NBC to begin reporting data based on its political data lab analysis in about a month.

"We can kind of call bunk on political campaigns that provide us with information when they're doing the analyses." NBC approached TargetSmart about a potential relationship, said Mr. Lapinski, who said he would be open to NBC having a similar relationship with a Republican data firm.

The new partners would not specify the details of the deal besides to say that when NBC analysts cite stats based on their analysis of TargetSmart data, they'll mention TargetSmart.

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