Why you didn’t even know there was an election in Philly

    The three Democratic candidates for city controller in Philadelphia spent close to $1 million communicating with voters over the past few months. But I’ve encountered smart, socially aware people who, as recently as yesterday had no idea there was an election.

    One reason, I think, is that campaigns have gotten so sophisticated at targeting voters that the general public can be left behind.

    Walk down a street anywhere in Philadelphia, and you can find a household that received 15 or 20 direct-mail pieces with colorful campaign ads, while the house next door got none at all.

    Why? Targeting.

    Campaigns get public records of when citizens vote, and in an off-year election like this, they go for “super voters,” the ones who always show up.

    I asked Dan Siegel, the campaign manager for Democratic controller candidate Brett Mandel how they decided whom to target with campaign messages.

    “We picked the highly likely Democratic voters for this kind of election, people who voted in at least two of the last three municipal primaries,” Segal said.

    Two of the last three municipal primaries? How many people is that?

    “We found there were about 80,000 individuals who were unlikely to miss a primary,” he said.

    That’s just about 10 percent of the city’s registered Democrats. Said another way, campaigns didn’t even try to reach nine out of 10 eligible voters with much of their material.

    It’s an efficient use of limited funds, but it helps explain why there wasn’t a lot of buzz about the election, which only further depresses turnout. It’s as if the election were limited to a small, private club — like the Philadelphia Republican Party (just kidding — I know the GOP is united and coming on strong for the fall).

    There were several debates, three of them on television (if you watch on Sunday at the right time), as well as several radio ads and one cable TV spot. But it takes a lot to engage the general electorate, and this election didn’t.

    Turnout was about 9 percent in Philadelphia.

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