Democrats and Republicans are locked in a space race of sorts, competing to have the best campaign election technology in the field.
Rather than landing on the Moon, the race is to get their man (or woman) into the White House.
While the Democrats may have taken the lead in the 2012 election cycle, Republicans think the GOP has caught up with them in some areas, and surpassed them in others.
Republican sources say they perfected micro-targeting in the George W. Bush campaigns. The Obama team expanded on micro-targeting in the digital world for his campaign and now Republicans are taking what they’ve all learned and are building on it for the entire party – not just a presidential candidate.
Mike Czin, the press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, believes Republicans are giving themselves far too much credit.
“The Republicans are trying to figure out and reverse engineer what we did a couple of years ago,” he said. “They are throwing a lot of money at the problem, but they are still many generations of technology behind.”
Republicans set out in 2013 to completely redo the way they used data and technology in daily political operations, invested millions in collecting new data and built a set of tools that the RNC believes will help GOP candidates win.
The DNC has been investing in campaign technology for over a decade, building a centralized voter file that is designed to help state and county Democrats run better, smarter campaigns by facilitating improved one-on-one, face-to-face contact with voters.
They have used a 50-state strategy, investing millions of dollars a year to improve the system, incrementally, Czin said.
The result is what the DNC calls “Project Ivy,” the fourth-generation of DNC and Democratic Party’s investment in data and technology.
The GOP tech teams created two canvassing apps, along with an improved voter scoring system and APIs (application programming interface) to allow the RNC to work with campaigns, state parties and technology vendors in this new team effort.
The new campaign-voter management technology is credited with helping Republican David Jolly win a March special election in Florida for a U.S. House seat.
The Republican National Committee began by creating an in-house, startup organization known as Para Bellum Labs and recruited the best talent they could get from companies like Facebook and LinkedIn.
From this startup, Republicans rolled out a national voter file called One Data. They believe it is going to be the most comprehensive data file in their party’s history.
It already has 190 million active U.S. voters in its databanks with information on a voter’s age, gender, voting history, demographics, party identification, phone numbers, addresses and precinct locations, and it is constantly being rebuilt by the RNC’s IT team to make sure the data it holds is up to date.
The whole thing was rebuilt twice in the last year and now includes 18 years of voter history.
The problem for Republicans in 2012 was not a lack of data. They always have had a lot of numbers. It was the use of that data that was the problem. The emphasis now is making sure that not only is the data more accurate and more up to date, but that they are using it more effectively.
This brings us to the next tier in this new RNC system is predictive analytics, called the Foresight System.
The old system ranked voters on a scale of 1-5. If a voter was a 5, the voter was deemed likely to vote. If the voter received a score of 1, he or she probably wouldn’t bother to vote.
The new system ranks voters from 1-to-100 with seven inputs. The old system only had one input.
The Foresight System allows campaign workers to be much more accurate about whether people will vote in a midterm, a general or a special election, or all of the above.
Next is the RNC Control Panel. It is basically a way campaign workers — the knuckles on doors, the tongues licking envelopes, and the voices on phones — can better connect with voters, thanks to a system that delivers voter contact information and data analysis in real time.
It allows for people while they are walking or phone banking to constantly update info if for instance they find someone in the databank moved or died, or whatever.
The RNC Control Panel also allows volunteers to pick up their smart phones, open the app, enter their information, and go out knocking on doors without going to a Victory Center first.
The final piece of this new technology effort is RNC Beacon. The private sector would call this a customer relationship management tool. It updates and shares information in real time so workers can better target voters in the field.
Everyone has a passion about something. The GOP wants to make sure they are hitting that passion nail on the head in each conversation.
For instance, if the campaign worker knows the person opening the door is a real Second Amendment supporter who really cares about guns, the campaign volunteer would talk about that instead of, let’s say, fiscal issues.
That person opening the door, who eventually will be stepping into a voting booth, might care about the budget, but if what is really going to get him or her to vote GOP is the Second Amendment, that is what the campaign worker is going to know enough to talk about.
It is all about creating a two-way relationship with voters at the door, not campaign workers just throwing something at a wall and hoping something sticks and motivates the voter.
Czin said the Democrats’ Project Ivy brings the tools from the Obama campaign and makes them scalable to smaller and smaller races.
“One of the things that the Obama campaign did very well was to apply data technology to campaigns,” he said. “Now what we are doing is to breaking that down, see what worked and what didn’t work, and giving those tools to folks running up and down the ballot in November.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette believes Michigan Republicans have a major advantage thanks to the new tools developed this year.
“The path to Republican success in 2014 requires a new approach,” he said, “and improved technology for our volunteers and campaigns will get us one step closer to that goal.”
Czin agreed that this is just the way elections are done now, but firmly believes the Republicans are generations of technology behind the Democrats.
And Czin said the Democrats have no intention of giving up that advantage.
“In 2014 we will be smarter and better in 2012, and that is the case looking forward to the next presidential campaign in 2016.”
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)