By Bryan McPartlan, Vice President & Data Director, C3 Public Strategies
There is nothing more important than a good voter data file in a campaign. Too often, campaigns try to cut corners, or find ways to save money on data, but if you are starting with a bad file, every attempt to contact voters will have waste in it. You will send mailers to wrong houses, knock on the wrong doors, call disconnected phone numbers, and waste valuable time and resources on things that are not helping towards the goal of every campaign, winning. When starting a campaign, make sure you have a good data source for your base voter file so you can make smart decisions with campaign spending.
Working in the data side of politics, we have seen every scenario where things can go wrong because of a bad data file. We have seen campaigns send a full mailer to the wrong district by accident because they didn’t realize redistricting moved the lines. Campaigns have gotten an old voter file in an excel file from an old campaign. We have seen campaigns try to target every voter regardless of the likely turnout, or try to hit every home regardless of whether registered voters live in that household. We have seen data vendors continually add new voters to their file, but never purge people from the list that died, moved, or who cannot vote in the upcoming election. To prevent these mistakes, a campaign must make sure they are buying data from a reputable source and are targeting likely voters for that election.
When picking a vendor for the campaign’s voter file, you must make sure that you are asking a number of questions that can help the integrity of your data and increase efficiency of voter outreach. First, you must see how often the vendor updates the voter file. Good vendors update the file every two to three months in non-election years and monthly in the months leading up to an election. The next thing you need to ask is where are they sourcing their voter file from. There are states where voter registration is very centralized through the Secretary of State, but a lot of voter files are managed directly by the individual county registrars of voters, to which the state may only update their voter file from the counties a few times a year. Making sure the voter file is being pulled directly from the source data and frequently is important to running a good campaign. According to new Census Data, 9.8% of all Americans move every year. If your data file is not current, nearly 10% of your file voter contact spend will already be wasted.
If you are in a state with early voting, find out if your voter file source will be able to pull early voting data so you can purge people who already voted from your target audience within the last month of the election. Doing this can help you save time and money as you knock doors, send out mailers, and reach out to the community. In California for example, over 60% of voters vote by mail in elections, meaning that final contacts to voters close to election day can have the audience narrowed significantly.
No campaign starts off well without a good source of data. For the efficiency of spending on your campaign, do not skimp out on voter file costs for the sake of saving money. In the long-term, investing in good data can save you money and time in other areas of the campaign and ensure your outreach is successful to active voters and likely voters. Paying a reputable firm to help with targeting can make all the difference in a campaign.