Will Big Data Help Local Candidates?
Knowing they’re not going to get the same turnout Tuesday that they do in gubernatorial or presidential election years, municipal candidates on both sides of the aisle have been working hard over the past few months to get their voters to the polls.
For Southbury First Selectman Ed Edelson, a Democrat, that means targeting voters who may be undecided.
In a town where registered Republicans and registered unaffiliated voters outnumber registered Democrats by more than 7,800 voters, Edelson is admittedly “playing from behind.” In order to win Tuesday he will need the help of the 3,200 registered Democratic voters and the more than 11,000 Republican and unaffiliated voters to win a second term.
In an effort to level the playing field, he’s putting the state Democratic Party’s VoteBuilder system to the test. VoterBuilder and the CT VAN database are the tools the Democratic Party has given its municipal candidates to use to help them reach voters. The database was developed by NGP VAN, which also helped President Barack Obama’s campaign mine data and target potential contributors.
A few weeks ago at his headquarters in a strip mall in the center of town, Edelson explained that he goes into the computer database and pulls up a phone number of an individual. The computer tells him if he has contacted that person and how they were contacted. It also pulls up a script he can use when talking to them about his campaign.
On any given night there are about 100 people in his virtual phone bank. The list is created by his campaign manager Rowan Kane or the state Democratic Party’s regional field director Alex Bland.
There’s even a smartphone application, called Mini-VAN, which is designed for us by volunteers who go door-knocking. The volunteers can use the app to input information, and that data is then synced to the database. A canvasser can enter information as the voter provides it while they standing on the front porch.
As Election Day neared, the campaign started shifting from door knocking to phone banking in order to reach as many people as possible.
“If we’ve done our job, we know who we want to get out to vote,” Edelson said.
All that information added by Edelson and his group of volunteers will be used in next year’s election by the party’s candidates for statewide office.
It’s this type of data collection and data mining that helped Obama fend off a challenge from Republican Mitt Romney.
The VoteBuilder system has been a staple of the Democratic Party since at least as far back as 2004. The Republican Party also is getting more sophisticated as well. This is the first full year that the Republican Party has used its GOP Data Center, developed by FLS Connect.
The firm has connections to Romney’s campaign. Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, and Tony Feather, who worked as political director for the 2000 Bush/Cheney campaign, are the top two partners in the firm.
The GOP Data Center is a product developed by the Republican National Committee for use by state parties. The GOP Data Center replaces a system the Republican Party used in the past called Voter Vault, which was built during former President George W. Bush’s tenure.
The new system is supposed to allow Republicans to collect more detailed demographic information and more data to help target voters.
Zak Sanders, communications director for the Connecticut Republican Party, said GOP Data Center is similar to Voter Vault and VoterBuilder in that it gives volunteers access to individual voter records and allows them to create lists using a variety of criteria including geography, party, vote history, and more.
He said “most if not all” of the municipalities are using GOP Data Center and the feedback he’s received has been mostly positive. He said he’s being told it’s easier to use than Voter Vault and works much faster.
However, the state Republican Party has to grant a Republican Town Committee or state central committee member access to the database first before they can access it.
Sanders said he’s unaware of any door knocking application similar to the Democrats mini-VAN, but is confident that, with Andy Barkett as the national party’s chief technology officer, more bells and whistles are on their way. Barkett was hired by the RNC in June. His resume includes work on behalf of Facebook, Google, and Livescribe.