Can I Win? Analyzing Voter Data

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Now that we know how to mine the data we need, it’s time to put it to work for us. Analyzing voter data is not much fun. It’s mind-numbing, in fact. But it’s the type of thing where if you stare at it long enough, eventually all the pieces fit together and suddenly you have a plan.

There’s no works-every-time system for analyzing voter data.  Every town is different, and every precinct within that town is different.  You may need to devise different strategies for different precincts depending on the demographic and political make up of the neighborhood.  Sometimes geography makes a big difference in how you approach campaigning, messaging, and grass roots / voter contact efforts.

Many, many political districts, especially at the state and federal levels (state representative or national House races), span both tightly packed city precincts and winding country roads.  You face very different challenges depending on where you are campaigning on a particular day.  Doing door-to-door voter contact in the city, you have to figure out how to get into apartment buildings that are locked to non-residents.  How do you get endorsements from local businesses? In the country you have to drive from one house to the next to go door-to-door; is there a better way? Should a local supporter hold a coffee with 10-15 voters instead? What message resonates with farmers and which with a small business owner? Career women and stay-at-home moms?

This is why in many cases you need to break out your voter data into individual precincts or groups of precincts and adjust your message and strategy accordingly.

So where do you begin?

Start with answering these questions about each and every precinct in your political district.

Are the voters heavily partisan or is this a fairly ‘swing’ precinct?

If it’s a strongly republican district, it’s ripe for GOTV and volunteer recruitment, and an especially important precinct during a primary. If it’s strongly democrat, you may not want to waste time there at all (although I very rarely advocate abandoning a precinct entirely. Every little vote counts.) Or perhaps there’s an issue that you believe will resonate well with Democrats that you can play up in this area.

How has this precinct changed over time?

Old voters die, neighborhoods gentrify, new people means new and different concerns. If you see an area, for example, that is gradually becoming more right-leaning, it could be that what once was a senior citizen neighborhood has been slowly taken over by new young and growing families who value keeping their tax dollars over social security concerns. That’s just one example. It helps to put boots on the ground in these neighborhoods and just feel out who lives there. Often a precinct is given up as “primarily Democrat” when, upon closer examination, it isn’t necessarily so.

What is the demographic make-up of this precinct? Race? Average income? Home-owners or renters? Religious, and what type, or unaffiliated?

Different groups care about different issues. It’s as simple as that. Tailor your message in that area to the voters who are receiving it.

Are the voters here voting in every election/for every candidate?

There are tons of people who go to the polls and simply leave blank the races in which they don’t recognize a name. This is a prime opportunity for voter contact! You know they go to the polls on Election Day, and getting them there is half the battle (the harder half). This is likely a place to show your face often.

Have voters favored different parties for different races?

Try to figure out why.

Some elected officials have such a hold on their electorate, or have just always been there, that everybody just continues voting for them, regardless of party affiliation. But they vote differently for other races with less familiar candidates. Maybe you can convince them to vote for you. Or maybe you can take a look at that “outlier” official and latch onto his positive qualities. Or if you’re actually running against that incumbent, it reveals to you how you should craft your message in regards to comparing/contrasting yourself with him.

How do the local issues affect this precinct?

Your district is unique and your message must match it. Focus on the things that matter to the voters here and now.

As you go through this exercise, you will probably come up with many more questions specific to your campaign and your district. You will also need to do additional research (think, microfilm newspapers at the library) to figure out what events and issues have affected past elections. As you put it all together, I promise, you will have an “Ah ha!” moment—or several, more likely—as you go precinct by precinct devising your campaign plan.

Rank your precincts

After you’ve done all that work, you need to prioritize which precincts are the most important, which you simply shouldn’t waste time and/or money on, and which are somewhere in between. You can throw them into these three tiers, or if you’re Type A like me, you’ll want to rank every single precinct in order, and maybe even have different ordered lists depending on the activity (communications vs. voter contact, for example).

The rest of your campaign strategy will grow organically out of this analysis.  These numbers will reveal if your campaign has a chance at winning, and what path to take to get there.  It’s important that you stick to it, because though current events, candidates, and circumstances chance, the numbers won’t. These are the hard facts upon which your campaign should be built.

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