Good Data Helps Find Good Volunteers for Your Campaign

3 Dec

Writing for Brookings, Michael J. Malbin reports that this year’s enthusiastic midterm elections found candidates raising record levels of money:

Democrats running in the general election against incumbent Republican House members in 2018 have shattered all previous records for challenger fundraising, more than doubling the previous high set by Republicans in 2010. We know from the work of Gary Jacobson and other political scientists that challenger fundraising is probably the single strongest signpost of a competitive election campaign. In 2010, Republican challengers had raised 43 percent as much as the Democratic incumbents they were facing by the end of September, and 52 Democrat incumbents were defeated in the general election. In 2018, the shoe was more than just barely on the other foot. By the end of September, Democratic challengers had raised 69 percent as much as the incumbents they faced. We should emphasize that this includes all challengers and not only the ones in competitive races. All Democratic challengers, including the sure losers, raised almost as much by September 30, on average, as the average winner spent over the course of the entire two-year cycle in 2016.

But raising money isn’t enough. Otherwise, the candidate who raises the most money would always win, and that’s not the case. Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 points out that the mere fact that the candidate who spends more often wins more often isn’t a “causal link.” It doesn’t mean spending the money caused the win. And there are plenty of counterexamples to the assumption that money always wins, such as billionaire Tom Steyer donating a collective total of $50 million to candidates in 2014 and fewer than half of those recipients getting elected.

Winning campaigns requires engagement, and that means recruiting enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers. More importantly, winners turn supporters into volunteers. That takes a certain kind of “conversion process” where a smart campaign, upon learning they have enthusiastic supporters, will contact those supporters and provide easy-entry volunteer opportunities for them.  As Kelly Dietrich wrote earlier this year, “Engaging with voters goes beyond simply knocking on doors. It’s about giving voters ownership of your campaign’s success and making sure they know they are a crucial part of your campaign. By doing this, you change the ‘I’ of your candidacy to a ‘we.’ You get them to volunteer.”

Writing for Vox, here’s what David Broockman and Joshua Kalla have to say about campaign volunteers: “Mountains of rigorous research show that campaigns should be having personal conversations with voters at their doors. But, campaigns spend almost all their money on TV ads — and, every year, most voters say they’ve never had a conversation about the election at their door.” In fact, Broockman and Kalla write, one set of research “found that voters called on the phone or sent postcards were not noticeably more likely to vote than those sent nothing. But canvassing was different. Just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points).”

A 20-percent boost in turnout just from canvassing? Holy cow! Why doesn’t every candidate do this? Well, it’s hard. It requires a lot of data to recruit and retain volunteers. Many campaigns just keep throwing money at advertising on the theory that they’ll reach a larger number of people overall. That prioritizes quantity over quality, and doesn’t get people to the polls with any certainty.

Appending and data aggregation services can help recruit and enthuse volunteers. One organization I work with, Accurate Append, has been lauded by Call Hub for having “billions of data points on U.S voters and consumers,” guaranteeing that its clients’ “campaigns have the right contact information to rely upon through their email append, phone append, and lead validation features.”

But Accurate Append also maintains an industry-leading demographic database. This allows campaigns to access quality demographic attributes of voters on their lists, including their ages, income levels, and political interests. That information can be appended to their lists, allowing quick searching and analysis from which campaigns can identify ideal volunteers.

The processes involved in building a greater understanding of your support base includes verifying contact data, turning partial collections of contact information (like just having an email address or phone number) into full lists (a voter’s name, address, phone number and email). But it also means knowing what neighborhood a voter lives in and the local issues most likely to affect them. Append services can help you do that too. What I also like about append services is that they take seriously the fact that time is of the essence in campaigns. You upload a file to your secure folder and we return the results in that same folder.

The better you can manage that data, the easier it is to do the other essential things you need to do to manage volunteers–laid out nicely in this recent post by campaign tech company NGP Van–including respecting volunteers’ time, making the volunteer experience fun, and building ladders of volunteer engagement. Having good data means you can keep recruiting, and treating volunteers well so they work even harder.

It’s all part of an effort to use technology to re-humanize politics. This may seem ironic since technology has been part of the reason campaigns have de-humanized constituents. But the solution lies in a more intelligent and humanistic approach to collecting and interpreting that data. And that interpretation, in turns, requires more accurate and more frequently-updated data.

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