Joe Garofoli
Published 11:09 pm, Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Leaders of the California unions that spent $75 million to defeat Proposition 32’s union-busting campaign in November discovered something during the bruising battle: 40 percent of likely voters were not watching any Prop. 32-related TV commercials, even though the spots droned on nonstop throughout the fall.

So the forces opposed to the measure, which would have banned the use of union payroll deductions for political contributions, changed tactics.

Fusing a sophisticated data-mining operation with messages sent through social media platforms such as Facebook, the unions changed how they were singling out voters younger than 40 who don’t watch TV. Within weeks, they saw support for their position among younger voters climb from 40 percent to 60 percent.

The move showed the limitations of carpet-bombing TV ads and foreshadowed how the 2.1 million-member California Labor Federation is using new technology to remain relevant in an era where union strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin are withering. Insiders say their plan is a microcosm of what President Obama’s vaunted re-election campaign was doing.

In 2013 the giant labor group plans to create an online hub where Californians can organize around local problems such as potholes or concerns about city council members.

Its goal is to create something more durable with these newly tapped voters.

“We now understand a tremendous amount about voters in California,” said Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “Now we’re going to try to use this to create community.”

The organization has invested $9 million over the past three years in a program called Million More Voters to broaden its base beyond union members. Union leaders searched for nonunion voters who shared their beliefs on economic or cultural matters. The program has put them in touch with nearly 4 million Californians.

Hundreds of data points

Over that time, the labor federation has analyzed more than 800 data points on 18 million California voters – melding information such as whether the voters “liked” a local coffee shop on Facebook and their voter registration status.

Using those data profiles, the group found that a sliver of Republicans opposed Prop. 32, which would have drastically altered how labor unions fund their political operations.

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