How To Use Voter Data In Your Campaigns

Published on February 29, 2024

All campaigns these days use voter data. From planning out communication strategies to structuring messages for specific voters, every step is guided through voter data campaigns. Campaigns hire analysts and consultants from data firms specifically for their data operations.

Voter data allows political campaigns to identify and target specific demographics or voter segments more effectively. By understanding the preferences, concerns, and behaviors of different groups of voters, campaigns can tailor their messaging and outreach strategies to resonate with those audiences.

Overall, voter data empowers political campaigns with the information and tools needed to run efficient, targeted, and impactful election campaigns, ultimately influencing electoral outcomes.

How do you do that? Here are the steps you need to know. 

Acquire your voter list

States possess diverse criteria concerning who can demand a voter list, the content within it, what data remains private, and the permissible use of such information. 

graphic-voting-louisiana

Image: Data that is publicly available can be used to make profiles like this one about voter-aged citizens in Louisiana

Every state permits certain levels of access to voter registration records for political parties and candidates running for elected positions. Depending on your state of residence, your voter details might also be disclosed to law enforcement, governmental authorities, businesses, researchers, journalists, and the wider public.

By the numbers: 

Accessing them from state governments

There is a long-standing tradition of accessing voter lists for political campaigns. Candidates definitely get a huge boost by identifying their party’s supporters, but not every record is accessible to the public. But you can still use voter data that is available. 

The costs for these can range from $0 in Oklahoma to $37,000 in Alabama. 

Here’s a complete list of rules for access to electoral rolls by state, with links to purchase them from the states directly. 

Please note: If you are affiliated with the two major parties – Democrats or Republicans – the party’s national committees will provide you with the data for your campaign. 

Purchasing voter lists

The advantage of buying voter lists from ‘big data’ companies is that they will sort the data as per your needs and match it with other data (like home ownership, voting pattern, education, etc.) to make the data more useful for voter profiles. 

Naturally, they charge a premium for these services, depending on how segmented you want the data. Here are some of the biggest players in the voter lists market. 

BIGDBM: One of the ‘big data’ firms ever since they began in 2016, they claim to have a database of 250 million registered voters. They provide ‘identity graphs’ that help you map your campaign to your target audience by including consumer data. 

Aristotle: Started in 1983, this well-known firm provides voter data, machine learning, and data analytics. Interestingly, the team is led by a former two-term Federal Election Commission Chairman. They claim to have over 235 million voters on their lists. 

L2: A popular source for 50 years, L2 claims it maps its voter data with 53 data points, providing a deep look into every voter profile. They claim to have data on 215 million voters.  

TargetSmart: Since launching more than 15 years ago, TargetSmart has established itself as the leading provider of political data for progressive campaigns and advocacy organizations. 

number-of-registered-voters-in-the-united-states-from-1996-to-2022

Image Source: Statista

How many registered voters are in the US?

There are 161 million registered voters in the United States, as measured by the census in 2022. 

Here’s a table with the data broken down by state: 

Census: November 2022Number of Registered Voters (in millions)
United States161 (Total)
Alabama2
Alaska0.373
Arizona3
Arkansas1.36
California17.03
Colorado3.16
Connecticut1.77
Delaware0.5
District of Columbia0.39
Florida9.7
Georgia5.2
Hawaii0.65
Idaho0.91
Illinois6.1
Indiana3.2
Iowa1.7
Kansas1.5
Kentucky2.3
Louisiana2.2
Maine0.85
Maryland3.3
Massachusetts3.6
Michigan5.7
Minnesota3.2
Mississippi1.5
Missouri3.5
Montana0.61
Nebraska0.93
Nevada1.4
New Hampshire0.8
New Jersey4.4
New Mexico1.02
New York8.8
North Carolina4.5
North Dakota0.41
Ohio5.8
Oklahoma1.9
Oregon2.5
Pennsylvania7
Rhode Island0.62
South Carolina2.4
South Dakota0.46
Tennessee3.4
Texas12.4
Utah1.5
Vermont0.39
Virginia4.4
Washington4.1
West Virginia0.87
Wisconsin3.2
Wyoming0.27

Create a voter persona

While voter data is valuable as it tells you how many voters there are, by itself, this data you cannot use vote data to win – unless it helps you build a ‘voter persona.’ This is key because, in politics, defining your ‘target voter’ is one of the main pillars towards victory. 

You need to fully understand who your message resonates with, what kind of people they are, and where you can find them. And you need to replicate this exercise for all your policy points or beliefs. 

Some of the data you will need to make a workable persona includes – 

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Relationship status
  • Occupation
  • Salary
  • District
  • Voting history 

Here’s a list of questions that can be explored to create a voter persona:

  • What does a typical day look like?
  • What social media are they on?
  • What publications (print or digital) do they read?
  • What do they do at work?
  • Do they have any hobbies?

The best way to build this voter database is to make the calls and speak directly to the voters you want to address. Building a call center and running a campaign will give you the most up-to-date results. 

Further, you can also use the sources mentioned earlier to buy lists with voter personas, which they generate through their algorithms. 

A sample voter persona will take you from ‘Dennis is registered to vote in Ohio’ to – 

Dennis spends their day entirely at work and is looking for shorter hours at their workplace. They are very active on social media and read often about US foreign policy – a major concern for them. A long-time illness keeps health insurance on their mind, while their hiking hobby means forests and preservation is something that deeply resonates with them. 

Attach a photo and a phone number – and when you call a voter within the region, age range, and political beliefs of this average ‘Dennis’, you can have a deep and meaningful conversation with them, possibly convincing them to vote for you.

While the ‘Dennis’ mentioned here is an example, typically campaigns create several voter personas – to help calling agents connect on a more personal level to every kind of voter the campaign is expected to appeal to.  

Identify areas to focus on using voter data

Once you have an idea about the voters who are likely to support you, geocode their addresses to find which areas you have the maximum support in. From there, you can identify areas with clusters of similar voters.

Focus your campaign efforts on areas where you have better chances of winning over supporters. Host events, meet with voters, and run volunteer activities in areas with a persuadable audience. Use the data to lay out the campaign trail so that you reach all the clusters of potential supporters.

A good way to build this roadmap would be to start with a calling campaign, through which you confirm what your data tells you and you inform them about your candidacy. 

Use texting campaigns to keep them updated about your events, collect RSVPs, and to collect funds for your campaign. And finally, run a GOTV campaign in these areas to maximize the votes you get on election day. 

Calculate your win number

Every campaign starts with a win number – the number of votes you need to get elected. And here’s a good way to get to that number: 

Step 1: How many people are going to vote? 

The best way to get a workable ‘turnout’ prediction is to use three similar elections to help predict the one you are campaigning for. Remember you have to calculate the average ballots received and counted, and not just the number of registered voters. 

Broadly, you can get an estimate of the voter turnout by taking the average percentage of voters who voted over the past three elections and taking that average percentage out of the registered voters in this election. 

So if, on average, 70% voted in the past three elections, and 100,000 people are registered to vote in this one – your expected turnout will be 70% of 100,000 – 70,000 voters.  

Here’s the math: 

  • Percentage of voter turnout of election one (X)
  • Percentage of voter turnout of election two (Y)
  • Percentage of voter turnout of election three (Z)
X + Y + Z / 3 = Average voter percentage over three elections (A)

Average voter percentage (A) multiplied by the total number of registered voters for this election (B), divided by 100.

A x B / 100 = Expected voter turnout (C)

Step 2: Calculating the vote goal

Ideally, you need 51% to win. But you cannot aim to convert precisely 51% of the voting population; hence, an extra safety margin of around 20% is considered.

Considering the example mentioned earlier, of the 70,000 who will vote, you need 35,700 votes to win. But to be safe, you add 20% to that margin and aim for 50,000 votes in the election to ensure your victory. 

Your ‘win number’ is 50,000. So you know you can use the voter data you have collected to form policies that appeal to at least 50,000 of the electorate. And hopefully, sweep the elections come voting day. 

Here’s the math: 

From the above example, you need:

51 x C / 100 = Minimum votes needed to win (D) 
20/100 x D = Safe margin of votes you need to win

Read More: Detailed report on how to calculate your win number for an election

Pick your outreach channels based on voter preferences

To strategize voter targeting, your first step would be to classify all voters into different segments. Typically, these segments comprise of the following: 

  • Strong supporter
  • Supporter
  • Undecided (Swing Voter)
  • Not a supporter 
  • Strong Opposition

As mentioned earlier, you can classify all registered voters into these segments by running a voter identification campaign. So, your first outreach channel will be a calling campaign to all registered voters. 

Your strong supporters are people who have been voting for your party or have shown a keen interest in your party’s objectives. Strong supporters will not require much effort to convince them to vote for you.

In fact, you can involve them in your campaigning efforts by encouraging them to help spread your message and draw in more supporters from their networks or communities.

They are perfect to be volunteers and sign up for relational organizing reach-out efforts.  

Supporters support your candidate but might need to be more motivated to come out and vote. Hence, your primary goal while targeting them would be to convince them to get out and vote on election day. 

Peer-to-peer and texting campaigns would be an excellent way to motivate these supporters. 

Undecided voters don’t have a strong opinion of any of the parties. This segment is the most crucial segment for your targeting efforts. A significant part of your campaign resources should be used to win over swing voters. 

Media ads, social media campaigns, emails, and your party website would support online efforts. 

Your offline efforts typically include phone banking, peer-to-peer texting, door-to-door canvassing, and community meetings/rallies.

Opposition supporters may yield little benefit for your campaign. To turn this group of people, your volunteers/candidates will have to address their issues in person to understand why they believe in the opposition and what you could do to get their support. You need a door-to-door campaign, which can be quite expensive. 

Managing and appending your voter list 

Each step begins with a calling campaign, and as the election campaign moves on, you will interact with these voters more and more. Every interaction – a call, a text message, a knock on their door – is an opportunity to add more data to the list. 

You must manage your voter list well. This includes – 

  • Removing wrong numbers, addresses, or other bad data. 
  • Segmenting your lists into ever more focused sections, targeting each voter as per their preference. 
  • Sort the data into supporters, swing voters, and opposition, and change that affiliation as your campaigning efforts change minds. 

At any given time, your voter list must be as clean as it can be. And dedicating a resource to this will be worth it in the long run. 

Along with managing the list, you have to append it to your list constantly. What does appending your list mean? 

  • Adding survey answers from your calling campaigns. 
  • Adding relevant tags (supporter, swing, etc.) after each interaction. 
  • Two-way syncing the data from your campaigning software with your CRM constantly.
  • Adding more contacts to your lists as you obtain them and start them on your communication cycle.  

As technology continues to evolve and data analytics capabilities expand, the importance of voter data in political campaigns will only continue to grow. Embracing data-driven approaches enables campaigns to navigate the complexities of the electoral landscape with precision and agility, empowering them to effectively communicate their message and secure voters’ support across diverse communities.

In the ever-changing landscape of politics, one thing remains clear: voter data is not just a tool but a fundamental asset that shapes the future of democracy itself.