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How to identify voters and target them

Published: Dec 27, 2017

You understand the impact elections can have: from empowering the disenfranchised to kick-starting an important movement. However, no matter how noble your cause or your candidate, you need to know the mindset of the voters.

why voter identification is important

Voter identification is not a one-time thing; voter identification is an all-the-time process that involves everyone in the campaign: from the volunteers to the manager. It determines where to focus your campaign resources through door-knocking and phone banking. It maximizes the number of small donors and the contributions of large ones. It even determines who should receive absentee ballots, a ride to the polls, and information about early voting. Voter id is the soil in which all other campaign activities grow.

But nowhere is voter identification more important than in shaping the campaign message. You need to make sure your narrative matches the broadest swath of potential voters. They may care about what you are trying to day, but if you are not explaining it correctly, not providing them the right reasons to support your cause, or not connecting the right messenger with the voter (i.e. having a millennial speak with a millennial), then you are squandering opportunities to optimize your vote totals.

Voters win elections, so get to know them!

The question becomes how to identify voters. There are many organizations that have voter lists, such as political parties, state electoral boards, and advocacy groups. Depending on the information you seek, the costs can be nominal or quite expensive. Therefore, for campaigns running on relatively tight budgets, it’s best to get the most up-to-date voter list that is: 1. in a .csv or Excel format; 2. has a party affiliation, and 3. provides voter frequency. If your budget allows you to obtain basic demographic information, such as gender and age, purchase that as well.

The next step is to determine what to do with this information. Let’s assume you’re the campaign manager for a city council candidate. If your candidate is running in a primary – it’s imperative to get out as many core voters as possible. In the general election, you will also need to reach out to high-frequency undeclared voters as well as lower-propensity Democrat voters. However, while knowing the party and voting frequency is important, the more information you have about a voter’s issues, the more likely you can secure that vote.

This is where a voter id system can really be helpful. Studies conducted and tracked by Yale University for the past 15-plus years have looked at what motivates voters. By far, messages and methods that emphasize personalization work best. “Authentic, person-to-person contact … is most important in determining whether a method will successfully mobilize voters.” 1 There are two platforms that allow for such personal interaction, phone banking and peer to peer texting. Both involve live humans interacting with voters, both allow for real-time voter identification, and both allow for additional opportunities for engagement, such as volunteer recruitment. It helps volunteers to use existing data obtained from the campaign, obtain information, and update the data to create micro-targeted lists of specific voters (i.e. those that care greatly about the environment, voters with school-aged children). This provides the campaign with options, such as direct contact from the candidate, informing voters of specific events directed at their interests, and early voting options in their communities. Peer to peer texting also allows campaigns to refine messages exactly to the voter id date they already have, making the personal contact even more pertinent.

Peer to Peer Texting guides

The one other thing to remember is the information is only as good as the data volunteers enter into the system. That means any phone banking or peer to peer texting program must be easy to use, convenient, and reliable. So when doing your due diligence on these companies, read over the case studies. The narratives will often address the concerns you have and may even answer questions you didn’t even think to ask.


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