Saturday, January 21, 2006

Use the Database On Election Day

While much attention is given to the use of databases for getting volunteers and raising funds for the campaign, an underused aspect of the database is for identification and contact of potential supporters who have not voted. This use requires organization of three separate branches of the campaign and unity among the three to be successful. They are
  • Polling station volunteers
  • Database administrator
  • Phone bank volunteers

Polling station volunteers. These are the boots on the ground who document the people who have come in and voted. Each voting district should have a list of potential voters and supporters. As people come in to vote, these volunteers should annotate who has voted. At some predetermined time (2-3 hours before the closing of the polling station), these volunteers should provide the annotated list to the database administrator.

Database administrator. This is the most time-critical potential bottleneck of the process. The database administrator must input the names of the people who have voted and then pull out a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of potential supporters who have not yet voted. This will require setting up forms and queries beforehand so that data entry is simplified and the query to pull supporters who have not voted can output the results at the click of a button. This query also needs to sort out calling lists in small groups (10 to 20 if enough phone bank volunteers are available) so that the phone bank coordinator can dole out assignments rapidly. Once complete, the database administrator needs to get the phone bank lists to the phone bank coordinator immediately.

Phone bank volunteers. This group will need a coordinator to receive the assignments from the database administrator and parcel out the work assignments to the volunteers. The phone bank volunteers will then need to call their lists to remind them to get out and vote for the candidate. Additionally, if they can reach the actual voter instead of an answering machine, the volunteer can identify if the voter needs transportation.

If transportation volunteers are available, the phone bank workers can provide names and addresses of individuals who need transportation so that the drivers can pick up voters and bring them to the polls. Again, this is a time-sensitive issue, as drivers will likely only have an hour to two hours to pick up voters and bring them to the polls.

If executed well, the day of voting database campaign can help bring incremental voters out to vote who may not have otherwise voted. This grassroots work can be the difference between winning a campaign and losing by a narrow margin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Constant Revision Keeps Contacts From Getting Stale

Just as a 20 year old address book found in the attic will likely yield few viable and usable addresses, so too is it necessary to update a contact database to yield the freshest information available. People change addresses, contact information, and party and political preferences, so refreshing a database's information about people will help to focus the efforts on the right people.

This type of information gathering mission is relatively easy to accomplish, but it is a time-consuming one. Fortunately, it is also the least stressful type of phone call or e-mail to make, so it can be done primarily with volunteers coordinated by a campaign worker. It can also be done early in the campaign, but even in later stage efforts, feedback is necessary to keep the database fresh.

Early in the campaign, the staff and volunteers must begin the process of sorting out who definitely supports the candidate, who is a likely supporter, and who to write off. Simple topics such as the following can help refresh this information:
  • Validation of current contact information (phone number, e-mail, address)
  • Party affiliation
  • Willingness to vote for the candidate
  • Willingness to volunteer for the candidate
  • Willingness to contribute to the campaign

In addition to updating and refreshing data, the campaign may find more sources of funding and volunteers through these efforts.

By consistently updating information, the campaign will be able to target future communications more specifically and precisely. This will save time, money, and effort in the long run and result in a communication effort that reaches the right voters with the right message with the right frequency, which should, in turn, lead to more votes.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Appropriate Contact With Names In the Database Leads To Increased Votes

After building up a list of names on the database, a campaign needs to ensure that it is appropriately harvesting those names to maximize votes while minimizing effort. The efforts of contact should be in a few categories:
  • Identification of party affiliation. By identifying party affiliation, the campaign can quickly narrow down whom it should target with future contacts. This can be done earlier in the campaign and requires no hard selling on the part of volunteers. Therefore, it should be easier to get volunteers to make phone calls to identify party affiliation.
  • Delivery of the candidate message. Having a short script with a few bulleted main talking points that takes less than a minute to deliver should help potential voters who are either on the fence or leaning towards the candidate. Again, this is not particularly taxing on volunteers, as they are not required to engage in much discussion regarding the positions.
  • Harvesting of volunteers. Asking potentially supportive voters if they would like to help the campaign can multiply the hands on deck to do more work. This also saves money for the campaign--volunteers are much less expensive than paid workers, although they also have varying levels of dedication.
  • Get out the vote. This is for both in the weeks leading up to Election Day and for Election Day. More on this in a subsequent article.
  • General campaign news/support messages. This is a good use of e-mail, for sending out brief weekly blurbs with updates on the campaign, and, if necessary, asking for support at various events.

While the list of contacts is useful, it can be abused. Too many calls will turn off voters and turn potential votes into abstentions or even votes for the opponent. Too many e-mails will result in the e-mails being deleted, filtered into trash cans, or being marked as spam. Too many marks as spam will keep the campaign from being able to deliver high quantities of e-mails as the campaign will get blacklisted by major mail providers.

So, a campaign list is a valuable but finite resource. Wise shepherding of the resource will lead to more votes for the candidate on Election Day.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Motivated Volunteers Are Worth More Than Paid Staff

Given that campaigns are limited in resources, particularly money, it is very difficult to hire enough staff to do all of the work that needs to be done in a campaign. Finding volunteers early and finding the volunteers who will actually do work is critical in helping a campaign get out its message.

The best place to look for volunteers is with the local party organization. The party leaders should know who has worked for candidates in the past and who may be willing to work for the candidacy now. Annotating those names in the database is critical, as one of the first tasks when a campaign gets into an area is organizing volunteers. Saving the campaign time and effort in winnowing down a list will be extremely useful.

Not everybody who wants to help a campaign is willing to do the same thing. The campaign should have a list of potential areas that need help to offer several opportunities for potential volunteers to contribute. Those can include:
  • Making phone calls. As will be discussed in a subsequent article, not all phone calls are alike. Some are information-gathering in nature, some are get out the vote in nature, and some are campaign sales pitches.
  • Hand out campaign literature. This can be at rallies, local public locations, and at the polling stations, as long as the representatives are an appropriate distance from the voting area.
  • Write letters. Letters to the editor show that a candidacy has support among the populace as well as helping to shape the debate and where a candidate stands on issues.
  • Deliver campaign materials. Signs don’t appear in yards through magic. Somebody has to deliver signs. Fliers don’t appear in cubbyholes and mailboxes. Somebody has to put them in cubbyholes or stuff envelopes.
  • Manage the database. Make sure that this person is skilled enough in either basic spreadsheets, database software, or SQL to be a benefit rather than a hindrance to the campaign.

Many other opportunities exist, and it is up to the campaign to determine where the most help is needed and where labor can be applied to the tasks. Some tasks are best handled either by individuals or by professionals.

It is incumbent upon the campaign to identify these volunteers early and put them to work. Even if the candidate has to make personal contact to solicit and enlist volunteers, they will be a force multiplier much greater than an equivalent amount of money, as these are people who are in the community, know their neighbors, have influence, and can bring skills to bear in the campaign. Identify them and keep a record of them so that when the campaign is over, the candidate can send thank you letters for the support, and hopefully can call upon them again as an incumbent in the next election cycle.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Start the List As Large As Possible, Then Focus Down

The best approach to growing a database for a campaign is to start with as broad of a base and a list as possible and work to segment that list into as many categories as are known. By doing this, a campaign can more efficiently identify groups which should be targeted for special treatment and which large groups are still available for harvesting.

Places to look include:

  • Local electoral commissions
  • Tax commissioners/finance departments of local jurisdictions
  • Local party organizations
  • List brokers

The first place to start is with local electoral commissions. In locations where party registration is necessary, information can be gathered on party registration of all registered voters. While this is a broad brush cut of a group, it does effectively provide a campaign with a starting point from which to work known voters. Even if party registration is unknown, having a list of all registered voters will narrow down the field of contacts to some extent.

Another place to look is with a local tax commissioner or finance department. Getting a roll of all households and adult residents will again provide a starting point. Comparing the list of registered voters against the list of all known adult residents will provide a list of potential contacts for get out the vote drives.

Additionally, talk to local party organizations. They should at least be able to provide a roster of members, which can be a starting point for efforts to generate volunteers and fundraising.

Finally, look at list rentals. The local company that mails out coupons (such as Val-Pak) should be able to provide a rich list of residents for initial information gathering and flier mailings. This should be a last resort, as the cost per acquisition from a rented list will be much higher than through any other method and will likely yield fewer contacts than the other methods.

By starting out with as large of a list as possible, work can begin with volunteers to help segment, define, and target that list for the campaign. As anyone who has tried to develop a targeted list can attest, it is easier to start large and focus down than it is to start with nothing and try to grow the list organically.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Database Design And Structure Will Optimize Subsequent Data Collection And Action

Data is only as good as its ability to generate insights and actions. Failure to organize and understand data will lead to an accumulation of useless data which wastes time in analysis and in collection. Therefore, good organization of data collection efforts is necessary to ensure that when the collection is done, the campaign staff can analyze and act on insights generated from the data.

To ensure that the database structure is appropriate for the campaign, the staff must first identify what it wishes to learn from the data that it collects. Some possibilities for organizing the data include:

  • Contact information. Names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and voting district are the most critical piece of information that a campaign can collect, as this contact information is the basis from which action is taken.
  • Willingness to support. Examples include monetary contributions, volunteer activities, willingness to vote for the candidate, party affiliation, and willingness to display signs in yards, windows, etc.
  • Contact history. When and through what channels did the campaign contact this voter? Additionally, what was the response? Supportive? Indifferent?
  • Bucket. Campaigns generally place voters into a few buckets: strong supporter (e.g. volunteer, contributor, worker), pro-candidate voter, on the fence, voter for opponent, and strong supporter of opponent. By identifying the fence-sitters, the campaign can focus its efforts on moving as many of those into the pro-candidate camp. The campaign can also focus efforts on driving get out the vote campaigns for the supporters.
  • Voting day activity. The campaign needs to identify who has voted and who has not on election day.
  • Voting history. If this information is available, this can be used to identify trends and also to target campaigns at poaching from the other side.

Interfaces are key to quick gathering and analysis of data. The data entry forms should be easy to use and work with, with appropriate tabbing and methods of entry. The more keystrokes and mouse movement necessary to enter the information, the more likely it is that errors will occur. Additionally, queries on the most important information should be pre-written. These include district queries, volunteer queries, and bucket queries.

Depending on the size of the campaign, this database can be run in something as simple as Microsoft Access, or it can use campaign management software such as BackOffice from Complete Campaigns. Regardless of the method used, the data should also be passed along to local party organizations during and after the campaign so that subsequent data gathering and analysis will be simplified.

Database Usage Is Key To Successful Campaigning

Regardless of the level of the election being run, proper mining and utilization of databases is key to success in a political campaign. While mass media can help with generation of awareness of the candidate and the candidate's positions, specific and targeted marketing must occur for the candidate to be successful unless the candidate already enjoys widespread name and position recognition.

To be successful at marketing and managing the campaign, a campaign manager will need a database of information. Having that database will not be enough to succeed, though. Harvesting the database and converting those leads into votes will be a critical success factor for the campaign.

The following are necessary to generate, grow, and harvest a political database:

  • Appropriate database structure. Irrelevant data or data from which the campaign team cannot take action is a waste of the campaign’s time and effort and wastes scare resources.
  • The widest possible contact list. It is easier to cull out names from a large list than it is to start from nothing and attempt to grow the list organically.
  • A team of motivated volunteers. Naturally, the backbone of any campaign is its volunteer base. Using the volunteer base to refine the database saves the time and effort of the campaign staff and can focus the candidate on important swing blocks.
  • Appropriate contact with names in the database. Nobody likes to get spam. Bombarding the contact list with e-mails, fliers, and phone calls will only serve to alienate undecided voters. Rather, the list should be used judiciously to establish rapport with the list and to communicate the salient points of the campaign.
  • Constant revision. Through the use of knowledge of the campaign and party organizations, the initial screening process can begin, to identify party loyalty and campaign loyalty. Over time, more information can help focus efforts, both in voter turnout and in fundraising.

A series of articles will discuss in detail each of the above points and how a successful campaign can optimize its efforts in maximizing votes.