How we got here
With sales, demographics are a valuable way to effectively market your product. No one who has developed a product or service doesn't ask the question of: who will most likely buy what I'm selling? The answer comes through the use of polling, surveys, focus groups or just plain common sense. The fact is that, if there is a group which will most likely buy more of what you’re selling, that's where your advertising dollars will be most effective. At least until your product is established within that market. Then maybe a few dollars to try to attract a slightly different market, and so on. This is all wonderful and wholesome. When it comes to demographics used in politics, it turns nasty.
It turns almost nefarious when politicians shove folks into a certain category that can then be pitted against another group. Each group is then turned into a victim that candidate X can then exploit. Each group is made to believe that candidate X is going to solve whatever circumstance existed that places them in that category to begin with.
There are categories, and sub categories, and sub-sub categories. Think of it this way: Try to come up with as many different groups there are in the category of minorities. Once you get through all of the hyphenated Americans you then get into where they live and how much money they make, gender, orientation, disabled, political view, and so forth. So see? There can be a never-ending list of categories for politicians to shove individuals into. "..We need the this vote or the that vote..." Latinos, Hispanics, African-American, the Wal-Mart vote, the NASCAR vote, Women voters, fly-over country, on and on….You see?
Methods of division
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on polling data, survey data, and the one that is the most distasteful for me, the focus group, although the focus group can be used for good or evil depending on the focus. These are techniques that are used on each of the categories of people polling groups wish to mine data from. Polls and surveys are taken for the obvious reason, that’s to find the answer to the poll question. Ah, but the question itself is designed to elicit the desired result. If poll results don’t offer supporting data, it’s never reported.
Wording of questions
It is well established that the wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls. For instance, the public is more likely to indicate support for a person who is described by the operator as one of the "leading candidates". This support itself overrides subtle bias for one candidate, as does lumping some candidates in an "other" category or vice versa. Thus comparisons between polls often boil down to the wording of the question. On some issues, question wording can result in quite pronounced differences between surveys. This can also, however, be a result of legitimately conflicted feelings or evolving attitudes, rather than a poorly constructed survey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_Poll#Wordiing_of_questions
Polling groups are also commissioned by politicians in order to gain an edge within a certain group. Opinion polls often influence the behavior of the electorate. Opinion polls are actually a method for nudging public opinion. Another use for polls is to desensitize the electorate to radical ideas.
Focus groups are the way talking points are tested. The speeches, phrasing, terminology, and even the order of words, comes out of the focus group. Designed to extract maximum emotional response, the result is a sanitized phony pile of words and phrases strung together designed to weave in, out, and around the offending words and ideas that the focus group detected. Hence, no one dislikes your speech because it went around all the things that would offend. But it doesn’t stop at merely seeking to not offend, no, no, no, no, the focus group has also discovered how to get your blood pumping. What idea, or mind picture will swoop in and get you caught up in the moment. The right words in the right order, mixed with enormous crowds, will create a feeling of euphoria that no drug can compete with. (Well, they can compete, but then you’re a druggie).