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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Silent Targeting, Dark Campaigns, and Ill-Informed Decisions? Microtargeting in Election Campaigns and Its Implications for Democracy

“Big data” has brought about a sea change in political campaigns. The vast amount of voter profile data is analyzed and fed into algorithms that generate specific content designed to appeal to each voter, allowing campaigns to individually tailor their messages based on the importance of the issue to the individual voter. This shift from the aggregate to the individual, also known as “microtargeting”, poses a number of concerns issues related to transparency in elections and questions about the impacts on our democratic values.

Because microtargeting occurs behind the scenes, little is known about the breadth and forms of microtargeting and its influence on individual voting behavior. Kim’s team, Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis), has already begun to develop a tool that tracks individually tailored online political advertisements. Using actual human-based, longitudinal, real-time algorithm auditing, the team will provide the first comprehensive study of microtargeting and explore how this new campaign strategy affects citizen competence and participation in democracy.

Principal Investigator

  • Young Mie Kim
    Associate Professor
    School of Journalism and Mass Communication


  • Garvesh Raskutti
    Assistant Professor