To get ready for 2018, the Democratic National Committee paid to find the cell numbers of every voter in America it could. Then, it passed them to the state parties as part of the master voter file candidates use for grassroots outreach and targeting.
Political parties routinely add commercial data to voter files; maintaining an updated trove of voter data has become one of the main functions the Democratic National Committee and its Republican counterpart perform in practice. The emphasis on cell numbers was new, though, and it reflects the growing recognition of the power of tools like peer-to-peer texting and distributed phone-banking to get voters to the polls.
I heard about the DNC’s mobile emphasis at the same December Rootscamp panel in which we learned about the DCCC’s extremely favorable Return On Investment from email list-building this past election cycle. That afternoon, the DNC’s digital head (Caitlin Mitchell) outlined more changes the party has made after Trump’s election, including:
- Building a dedicated creative team to work on integrated digital messaging campaigns
- Building a training apparatus for the first time in years
- Combining its direct-mail and digital fundraising teams (a major step for an old-line organization, and one that many legacy nonprofits have yet to take)
Party staff also used the many 2017 and 2018 special elections to try out tactics and technologies. For instance, they tested peer-to-peer texting for voter turnout in last year’s Alabama Senate special election against Roy Moore, helping the DNC rethink how to use cellphones broadly (and likely leading to the big mobile data buy).
Over the past dozen years, I’ve been to almost every Rootscamp or Netroots that’s taken place, and I can’t remember a discussion this open involving the digital staff from the party committees. Caitlin and her colleagues discussed a new emphasis on bringing individual party members into the process and not just treating them as cash machines on legs, another positive sign that I’ve seen reflected in some of post-election emails. Let’s hope that their words reflect a broader willingness to listen to new ideas at their organizations.