Data-Driven Field Organizing Pays Off as Democrats Dominate Iowa Early Voting

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Update: The DSCC is apparently on track to have 4000 staff on the payroll by election day, about as many as the Obama 2012 presidential campaign.

Last week we talked about one aspect of the Democrats’ plan to confound conventional wisdom and win tight races in 2014: their online-funded TV ad blitz. Now we’re seeing early hints of the potential of the second part of their strategy — data-targeted grassroots organizing — to pay off.

The NYT’s Ashley Parker gets a scoop from the DSCC, which has not been shy about its work to hold the Senate this cycle:

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, giving First Draft an exclusive look at its [Iowa] numbers, says it is ahead of its Republican counterpart in terms of absentee ballots requested — 58,000 to 31,000.

The committee says its program in Iowa has focused in large part on identifying and mobilizing unaffiliated voters who are likely to support its candidate, Representative Bruce Braley, in his race against State Senator Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee.

The goal is to expand the universe of potential Democratic voters, and party officials said they believed that 73 percent of the 23,000 unaffiliated voters who had requested ballots were likely to support Mr. Braley.

Moreover, roughly 92 percent of the requested Republican ballots went to party supporters who voted in the 2010 midterm elections, compared with about 64 percent of Democrats who requested ballots. Drawing from that voting history, Democratic committee members contend that a significant proportion of Democratic absentee ballot requests are from voters who haven’t typically voted in off-year elections.

That last line is key: as has been noted again and again, Democrats tend to stay home in off-year elections, while the Republican base is rarin’ to vote down anyone associated with our Kenyan Socialist overlord. The main goal of the Democratic party’s field organizing is to get their supporters off their butts and to the polls, either on Election Day or (even better) beforehand — absentee ballots are field-organizing gold, since every early ballot in the bank represents a voter who WON’T need to be hassled in person or over the phone before November 4th.

Also note the line about “expand[ing] the universe of potential voters” — that calculation is all about data, some of it demographic and some gathered through direct contact in the form of phone calls and door-knocks. Many modern field techniques hinge on figuring who OUGHT to support you and then contacting them to find out whether or not you’re right — which is what the DSCC’s 6000+ Iowa volunteers have spent long hours doing. Once you know your priority voters? You hound them to the polls — keep those vans rolling, kids.

Besides the NYT piece, we’ve also seen at least one hint that Iowa’s not an outlier, since Plum Line noted today that early voting in North Carolina is apparently also favoring Democrats so far. Millions of dollars of TV advertising plus thousands of hours of organizers’ and volunteers’ time, largely paid for by a constant blizzard of email fundraising: that’s the face of modern politics, whether cable news notices it or not.


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Colin Delany
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