Democratic strategists working for Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign said they had much the same consumer data as the Bush team, but they stuck largely with broadcast television because that was where their viewers were.
"You're tying one hand behind your back if you're not using the most sophisticated tools possible," said Mark Mellman, a top polling and media strategist for Kerry.
The additional money in this election allowed the Republicans to experiment with a different media mix and to apply techniques used by advertisers of consumer products.
"Politics is a mass product: 50 percent of American adults `consume' the election," said Will Feltus, senior vice president for research and planning of National Media Inc, which bought media time for Bush's re-election campaign.
The most alarming realization for the Bush team, he said, was learning that Democrats watch more television.
"It's like Coke finding out that they can't get to their consumers on television as easily as Pepsi can," Feltus said.
The Republicans' data, compiled by Scarborough Research, a leading market research firm, showed that nationally, Democratic voters were 15 percent more likely on average to be watching television than Republican voters. The research did not investigate the reasons for the lopsided viewing, but some analysts surmised that it had to do with Republicans not trusting the broadcast networks and with more programming being aimed at women, who tend to vote Democratic.
Feltus said that the Bush campaign, which began analyzing the data shortly after Bush took office in 2001, ran test projects in 2002 in the Texas Senate race and in a Colorado congressional race. The data in Colorado revealed, among other things, which roads Republicans drove as they commuted to work, helping the Republicans determine where to place billboards.
This year, before the Democrats had even selected a presidential candidate, the Bush strategists were considering advertising in movie theaters and health clubs. The data showed that Democrats were more likely to go to the movies than Republicans, so they dropped that idea. But it also showed that health clubs were a good way to reach Republicans and swing voters ages 18 to 34. So the campaign bought time on a cable channel that goes into health clubs across the country. It had reams of data that were not of immediate practical value but that helped the campaign understand its voters: for example, Porsche owners were more likely to be Republican; Volvo owners, Democratic.
Evan Tracey, who analyzes political television advertising for the Campaign Media Analysis Group, said the Bush campaign helped solidify its base of Republicans early with targeted cable commercials. These commercials, he said, were filled with "images of people saying grace and talking about faith and being optimistic about America, but there was also a lot of negative on Kerry."
The Democrats said they used similar data, with help from a new group called Media Vote, based in Los Angeles, but came to different conclusions about how to use it. They focused strictly on the battleground states, buying local cable instead of national cable, but still relying mainly on local broadcast programs.