Political campaigns

How political campaigns use your data in elections

In the United States, political campaigns use data on more than 200 million Americans of voting age to inform their strategies and tactics.

America’s two major parties compete to use the most accurate data to target voters in various ways, an advantage that has been touted as key in the election victories of former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.

Republicans and Democrats are working with data companies to create nationwide databases of voter records, collecting information from many sources to create detailed voter profiles with thousands of data points and build models that predict people’s positions on issues or candidates.

Political campaigns can use this data to help decide who to target in their outreach efforts, how to reach them, and how they might respond to certain messages.

National database

The US “Voters Register” is not a national database. The information used by the campaigns is collected from numerous public voter records, overlaid with hundreds of data points purchased from commercial vendors and updated regularly by companies like TargetSmart, which works for Democrats, and Data Trust, which helps Republicans.

Overlay data

Political data companies buy data from companies like Experian or Acxiom, which can include real estate property records, estimated income levels, consumer buying habits and demographics, including race and ethnicity. probable ethnicity.

These types of data are among the ingredients of the predictive models used by campaigns:

Predictive models

Predictive models can inform campaign decisions about how to target voters by predicting the likelihood that people will:

  • Support a specific candidate
  • Demonstrate certain behaviors or fit lifestyle profiles, such as going to church, using social media, or having medical insurance
  • Think a certain way about topics like gun control, same-sex marriage, race, the environment, or the Supreme Court
  • Changing their positions due to various campaign efforts

For example, a candidate may not want to spend money targeting loyal supporters with persuasive ads on Facebook, but may want to text them to remind them to vote. Or a campaign might decide to emphasize its health policy to people who have voted for the opposing party in the past but are worried about health costs.

Here is how predictive models are built:

Models are not enough

Campaigns get valuable, reliable data when people go door to door or call a volunteer, sign a petition from a Facebook ad, or walk to a rally. They also use their databases of phone numbers to send tens of millions of text messages and log many details from those replies.

“Asking someone is better than any data modeling you’ll ever find, so what data modeling does is help you figure out who the right people are to ask,” said Colin Delany , a digital consultant.

As the Nov. 3 election nears, campaigns are also using state data to track who applied for early or absentee ballots and who returned them, so they can inspire people to vote — and not wasting time contacting someone who has already voted.

Data Driven Campaigns

Campaigns use data to make informed decisions about everything from where to send mailings, where candidates should visit, and where to buy or target TV ads. They can also use it to “micro-target” political ads to voters on social media and online platforms.

Digital Ads

On Facebook, campaigns can upload a list of people they want to target using details like names or phone numbers. They will be told how many people on the list have seen the ad, but not who they are. They can also target people similar to their list.

Campaigns can also target Facebook users by layering multiple data points, such as whether they have adult children, are interested in electric cars, or use a language not common to their locations – and they can target by location up to within 1 mile radius. Find Facebook’s Ads Library here.

How campaigns access and use social media data to target voters has come under greater scrutiny following now-defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica’s inappropriate use of the data. personal information of Facebook users.

Google and YouTube have limited audience targeting for election ads based on age, gender, and zip code, so candidates cannot target using public voters lists, political leanings, or from their own lists of people. Facebook and Google have announced temporary pauses on political ads around the November election, while Twitter and TikTok are not allowing political ads.

Data sharing

Campaigns may have different agreements with political parties about sharing the data they collect, but many will feed the data back into a central system to improve the overall voter registry.

Data Trust, a private company established in 2011 that has an exclusive agreement with the Republican National Committee (RNC), also facilitates data exchange between committees and Republican organizations.

As part of efforts to overhaul Democratic data operations after Trump’s victory, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic state parties have agreed to participate in the Democratic Data Exchange. This separate society now allows committees, campaigns and outside political groups like unions or super PACs to share the information they obtain by contacting voters in a central file.