The DNC is Acquiring Millions More Cellphone Numbers

Mobile politics

Earlier this week, The Daily Beast reported that the DNC plans to add the cellphone numbers of millions of Americans to the voter file:

The Democratic National Committee is dropping “six figures” to acquire “tens of millions” of cellphone numbers through a variety of vendors, the group exclusively told The Daily Beast. It’s plan is to boost Democratic voter outreach, fundraising, and data collection ahead of a bruising 2020 presidential campaign and the host of down-ballot races that will reshape American politics next year.

Spoiler! The Democrats may be buying a bunch of new addresses now, but they already spent plenty to append cellphone numbers to the voter file for 2018. As I wrote over a year ago, after a RootsCamp discussion:

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.

Hmmm, sounds like a rerun. Perhaps they’re spending big to fill in geographic or demographic gaps? Another option: the DNC wanted a story to counter the “Trump’s ahead on tech” narrative often heard right now, and this looked like a good opportunity*. A DNC press release published after the Daily Beast piece notes that this buy is unprecedentedly EARLY in a presidential year…which is a big difference from “unprecedented”.

The Daily Beast article DID contain one thing new and interesting:

They’re also constructing a proprietary data science model dubbed “Sonar” to help campaigns prioritize who [sic] to call or text.

Good idea! The DNC’s press release notes that this data model “can increase [the] efficiency of cell phone outreach by over 35 percent”, in part by avoiding voters who don’t want to be contacted. Optimization algorithms like this are one reason the voter contact process has become so sophisticated over the last few years, and wringing every bit of value out of a volunteer’s time doesn’t fade in importance down the ballot. Most small campaigns don’t get the public attention that attracts enthusiastic volunteers organically, so they need to use time as efficiently as possible.

The upshot? Dems continue to invest in on-the-ground voter contact and turnout, which should pay off for campaigns large and small in November. If it doesn’t work? Four more years….

*A good thing to do, I’ll add. Dems are indulging in enough collective bed-wetting right now as it is.


Written by
Colin Delany
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