You may not know a lot about Dan Wagner. In 2008, the then-24-year-old joined the upstart campaign of a young, poised senator from Chicago. Wagner then built a data juggernaut.
Beginning with the Iowa caucuses that year, Wagner’s effective wielding of Big Data catapulted Barack Obama to the White House. But it wasn’t because of obvious or nefarious reasons.
The data was out there to be had.
Obama’s data-based political campaign strategies in 2008 and 2012 (bigger than ever, before President Donald Trump, that is) were conceived with the smallest of details in mind: the individual person.
Welcome to the world of microtargeting. It sees people and their politics quite clearly.
This isn’t a perk reserved for candidates with the biggest war chests seeking supreme glory. A small local or semilocal campaign can easily uncover the demographic and trend data needed to guide decisions toward an election night win.
Obama’s team turned two elections for the nation’s highest office into a campaign as tailored to the individual voter as a city council race. Your candidate can use data to channel similar methods, no matter how big or small the race. Here’s how.
How to Use Voter Data in Your Political Campaign Strategy
At the base level, you want to know your voter base. So your party provides a list of registered voters. You know:
- Address/phone number
- Political affiliation
- Date registered
- Maybe a bit more, depending on the state you’re in
You know who they are and where to find them. Time to start knocking on doors, right?
No. It’d be wise to take the time and dig a little deeper. What are you going to say once you get there? What do they want to hear?
But be careful, data mining can quickly turn into the never-ending search for more.
Find a strong political marketing research firm to supplement what you already know with the right types (and amounts) of data to find target audiences and resonate with them. This can be accomplished through:
- Compensated online surveys
- Demographic and trend studies
- Political robocalls
- Focus groups
- Key issue research
Never underestimate the power of compensation and large sample sizes to make your demographic picture a little clearer. Quantitative data can become qualitative. You’ll find out if your candidate should soften stances on issues, take a hard line, or even become more likeable. (You’d be surprised how far changing your tie color can go.)
How Did Wagner Innovate the Modern Political Campaign Strategy?
Obama’s presidency is over, and Wagner is now the founder and CEO of Civis Analytics. But in the 2010 midterms -- after Obamacare, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the auto bailout -- Wagner’s analytics proved invaluable for the Democratic party … to predict key losses in the House and Senate.
Much to the chagrin of Dems, not only did he predict the losses, but his numbers did so with outstanding accuracy even months before the first ballots were cast.
Republicans managed their greatest swing of House and Senate seats since 1938. We saw:
- Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House majority leader
- The rise of the tea party movement and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
- The beginnings of a congressional health care debate that continues to this day
Yet, there was little concern about Obama losing in 2012. Wagner’s data-based political campaign strategy was unstoppable. It was taken a step further. While the 2008 campaign against John McCain used Big Data in a get-out-the-vote effort for voters already targeted as supporters, the 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney aimed to convert moderate Republicans.
Taking a cue from the retail industry, online histories allowed the campaign to deliver personalized ads to constituents. Demographic information readily accessible to candidates includes:
- Property ownership
- Licenses and permits
- Publication subscriptions
- History of political volunteerism and financial contributions to parties or campaigns
- And more
All that, when combined with voter records and more conventional survey data, paints an accurate picture of the target persona. This allows political callers or door-to-door campaign solicitors to segment the message from house to house -- or ignore some houses entirely.
- One moderate Republican man may care more about economic policy than defense
- One left-leaning Democrat woman may care more about access to contraceptives than economic policy
- One right-leaning Republican woman may care more about addressing health care than foreign diplomatic influence
- One moderate Democrat may care more about social entitlement programs than addressing health care costs
In 2012, with a data analytics system 10 times greater than Romney’s, Obama’s camp channeled multimedia messages to demographic targets and geographic locations both large and small.
Essentially, while Obama focused on the national scale, his campaign’s hyperfocus was winning cities, towns, and even neighborhoods.
Orchestrating Your Data-Driven Political Campaign Strategy
Decades ago, political campaign strategists gravitated toward focus groups, cold calls, and other forms of polling to farm voter data. While statistically probable, the results of representing the whole by a small qualitative sample were sometimes unreliable. Even in 2016, polls leading up to the general election had Hillary Clinton narrowly beating Trump (though her 3 million-strong popular vote victory is worth noting).
Even local political candidates stand to benefit from voter data turned up in online surveys and polls, clearly identifying and defining the audience. Choose a political marketing research firm that’ll survey the masses to supply statistically viable data your campaign needs to win.