NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Political campaigns have long relied on their deep knowledge of the geographic dividing lines that cleave the electorate, whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal -- sometimes down to each precinct. But where do those dividing lines exist on the stateless plane of the internet?
A new study put out by Washington-based advertising network Resonate Networks attempts to show where the online audience tends to congregate, depending on their ideological bearings, and some of its findings run counter to prevailing opinions.
'Liberal' Audience(Select Sites In Ranking Order)
Source: Resonate Networks
The Economist, for example, is a more effective place to reach self-professed liberals than the Huffington Post, according to the study, which is a surprising conclusion given that the Economist is well known for its libertarian metier and is often ideologically closer to fiscal conservatives than to liberals. At the other end of the electorate, the study found there are more people who identify themselves as conservatives on Politico than on Glenn Beck's website, or that CBS Sports' website draws more Republicans than Fox News's website.
"To be clear, we're not saying that Huffington Post is a bad place to reach liberals," said Nick Tabbal, senior VP of research at Resonate. "We're just saying this was an eye-catching comparison where the Economist was better at reaching liberals. If we were to build a campaign targeting liberals, we may end up targeting both sites."
'Conservative' Audience(Select Sites In Ranking Order)
Source: Resonate Networks
In the case of Politico's conservative readership, Mr. Tabbal pointed out that the politically oriented site has a much bigger audience to begin with than Glenn Beck does online. "His site has a higher concentration of conservatives," Mr. Tabbal said. "But Politico has more conservatives altogether."
"The closer and closer you get to the elections, the more important it become to better target people online," said Chris Kofinis, a Democrat strategist who is advising on a number of midterm campaigns. Mr. Kofinis is not affiliated with Resonate. "This kind of analysis gives you the ability to look inside and the see simply where people are, and the picture is much more complicated than just liberals versus conservatives."
The study further found that only 25% of conservatives visit only conservative sites; 19% visit both conservative and liberal sites; and 9% visit only liberal sites. While the study did not single out Tea Party contingent, it did find that among the population of conservatives surveyed, 48% openly support the Tea Party with 40% being open to persuasion. Twelve percent of conservatives oppose the Tea Party.
The Tea Party has become a strange GOP bellwether for the midterms, as evidenced by its key primary victories with the GOP nomination of Christine O' Donnell in Delaware and Carl Paladino in New York. Despite those rare instances of Tea Party victory, political strategists agree Republican turnout will be high.
"The most dangerous place to be in this election cycle is between a Republican and a voting booth," said Pete Snyder, CEO of New Media Strategies, which is advising a number of GOP candidates for the midterms. "I'm not worried about our base."
As a result, for GOP strategists, reaching conservatives online is less of an issue, which allows them to reach out to moderates and "undecideds."
Demographic targeting has become a mainstay of online political advertising to reach that group, so knowing where liberals and conservatives congregate online is not always a decisive tactic.
"It's now about persuasion," said Democrat strategist Josh Koster, managing partner of Washington-based agency Chong and Koster, who is advising a number of Democratic candidates for the midterms. "It's about pounding them with the message. So for us, of course we're going to buy up all the Huffington Post and New York Times, but when you're done with that you're still talking about a very narrow part of the electorate. So we hit everything, including Fox News."