Targeting Voters Wins
Easy Ways to Build Your Base and Turnout Your Voters
by Joseph Mercurio
Targeting voters is a way to use resources most efficiently, it will help you bring your voters to the polls, better deal with communicating to voters with a message that will persuade them and leave turning out the opponents base vote to them. Done properly, targeting can make the difference in heavily contested races.
You start out having to know who is going to vote in your election and which of those voters make up your base vote and your opponent’s base. The first thing you notice when you look at elections is that presidential years have higher turnout, local races lower turnout, open seats (no incumbent holding the office) have higher turnout, up ballot races usually have higher turnout than down ballot races and genuinely contested races have higher turnout than normal. It is also true that often race, ethnicity, religion and geography effect turnout.
If you look back at past elections, there will be elections like yours, where there will be a minimum that a candidate will get—this is the base vote. Both sides will have a base vote in each ED (election district, the smallest political district). Once you know the base, you can find out what they look like demographically to help find like voters. This can work as easily for black urban voters as it would for rural dairy farmers. Outside of EDs, groups like environmentalists, labor union members and other groups can also be targeted to add to the base vote.
After you figure out who the base is and build on it, you have to get your voters to show up. Voters have three ways to vote: for one candidate or the other or not showing up. Historically, when most races in a given election were not really contested, low turnout in a contested race could be a reflection that one party’s candidate is not good enough to come out for and the opponent is not bad enough to vote against. So in your contested race, you have to get every favorable vote to show up.
First, who makes up the actual pool of potential voters in your race? In a district that has had few genuinely contested local year races, turnout can double in a hot race, so simply using voters who have a history of voting in local races might have you communicating to far few voters than your opponent. Age, length of residence, type of election and frequency of voting in elections all predict future voting. The best way to develop a list of potential voters is to use a computer to score each voter individually grading them, using their own history, as 75%, 50% and 25% likely to vote. Then based on budget and targeting, you can communicate to each group differently.
Secondly, you can annotate the voter file with personal information you have. There are donors, supporters and volunteers on either side who can be marked as favorable or hostile. (Some things like signing a nominating petition often does not indicate support; voters tend to favor ballot access. Also, a voter sending in a postcard on an issue often only means you can use the information as a way to persuade them; it is not an automatic favorable.) After you have added all this information, you can ID (identify voters in systematic calls) the remaining voters professionally.
All voters can be called in a hard (where the voter does not know who made the call) ID call with questions like who are you voting for, strength of vote, issues that will decide their vote, and the voter file is automatically updated accordingly. Voters will be broken down into favorable, lightly favorable, undecided, lightly hostile and hostile. You can drop hostiles from your program, while you add hits (contacts in the mail or persuadable phone calls) to the undecided, lightly favorable and even lightly hostile voters using the specific issue information. Later in the campaign, undecideds and select light voters might be reIDed.
In the last days of the campaign, all the favorables should receive a GOTV (get out the vote) call and a mailing that reminds them to vote, gives them the final endorsements, and even tells them where their poling place is located with a sample ballot. You have now streamlined your campaign efforts to the largest practical potential audience and concentrated your resources on building on your base vote and getting only your voters to the polls.
Next time talk about consultants. More later.
Joseph Mercurio National Political Services, Inc. 2 South End Avenue 9J New York NY 10280-1089 212 945-4330 www.nationalpolitical.com