The legislation also kicked off what might be called “database politics”. Democrats were the pioneers: in 2006 party officials set up a company called Catalist which today offers one of the most comprehensive databases on Americans of voting age, covering more than 240m people. Apart from the official register of voters, it also includes other public records and information from commercial data brokers. Each entry contains hundreds of pieces of information, from race to the probability of owning an SUV.
Catalist is best understood as a “data co-operative” for Democratic campaigns, trade unions and other left-wing organisations, says Laura Quinn, its chief executive. For a fee, it gives clients access to its common data pool. They can combine it with their own information and benefit from the firm’s analytics expertise, which mainly comes in the form of statistical “scores”.