The big news in the domestic political campaign world late last week was the announcement that the 2012 Obama campaign’s trove of data and technology would be released for use by other Democrats in 2014. For details, check out Kate Kaye’s excellent coverage in Ad Age, which also explores the implications for the data market on the Democratic side (plus, I got a few quotes in the piece — thanks Kate!). I wrote it up over the weekend for the next C&E magazine TechBytes column, but that won’t be public for another few weeks. Let’s think through some of the implications:
- Obviously, this has the potential to affect the dynamics of individual races in significant ways this fall. If Democrats can target outreach as effectively as Obama did in 2012 (and note that Democrats in Virginia claimed BETTER targeting in 2013 in part because of data and experience accumulated in the state the year before), they can offset at least some of the Republican financial advantage in the fall. More bang for your buck = effectively, more bucks.
- It’s likely that Dems will find it easier to roll out data access before the fall than to introduce major new software and technology, because of the learning curve and the need for training. As I’ve written about previously in TechBytes, though, Democrats already had a solid plan in place to give House and Senate candidates a comprehensive set of data-driven tools for voter outreach, and much of the Obama 2012 tech legacy was already slated for transfer.
- The best technology is only as good as the skills of the people using it, of course. Democrats will need a robust training system to make sure that staff can get as much value out of this development as possible — what good is data if you don’t know how to act on it? I assume the DNC and the state parties will work together to train candidates, with the assistance of groups like the New Organizing Institute, but we shall see.
- Likewise, good training will be essential to keeping bad data out of the system — as campaigns contact voters and feed information back in, they’d better know what they’re doing. Data corruption = a bad thing.
- Also, campaigns will need tailored content! I.e., if you’re breaking voters into groups based on their demographics and behavioral history (voting history, response to canvasser questions, etc), you’ll also need to have content designed to move those niche audiences.
- Overall, this development fits firmly into a long-running trend of campaigns using data more and more to target campaign communications. Good or bad for Democracy? Perhaps good, despite the fears of many naysayers — targeted messages (in theory at least) help to motivate voters to act, and a more-active citizenry is healthy for democracy in the long run. But that’s a Big Question, so let’s look at it in more detail down the road.
Watch this space! Of course, even the best field campaign is only likely to move the electorate by a few points, so if Democrats want the 2012 data to be decisive, they’ll need to spend the money, develop the messages and support the candidates who can get the margins tight. 2014’s going to be fun….