A tremendous number of clues are encoded in our names: our gender, age, ethnicity, even from which region of the United Stateswe hail. A person named “Schmidt” is much more likely than average to have German ancestry, and therefore to have ancestors who settled in the Midwest. If a woman is named “Helen,” which peaked in popularity in the 1910s, she is more likely to be of retirement age than if her name is “Ashley,” which was all the rage in the ’80s.
Applied to a single person, this is called stereotyping. Applied to a group, it’s called microtargeting.
I first noticed that names seemed to loosely correlate with politics when thumbing through a list of delegates during one of the political conventions. The Republicans seemed to have a hold on the Donalds and Sharons, while the Democrats were rich in Angelas and Willies. But that was a sample size of a few thousand people, and not much of a sample at that: Those positions go to elected officials and local party bigwigs.
But the Federal Election Commission has a much larger database of names and political associations. Candidates for federal offices are required to report the names of any person who has given them at least $200, whether it came in one large check or dozens of smaller donations. (A psychotherapist in Chapel Hill, N.C., for example, has given $850 to President Obama in 81 installments to date.) TheObama campaign has reported 1.75 million individual donations through Aug. 31, while the Romney campaign has 353,000. The other Republican primary contenders reported a combined 320,000 donations. These records include some people who have not hit the $200 threshold but whose donations the campaigns reported anyway.