If you’ve ever worked on a MassGOP state legislative campaign, (I have) then you know that early on, you watch the candidate try to decide some of the campaign strategy by looking at two kinds of data: previous election results in the district, and a list of Republican voters. You wish there was good polling data available that you could use, but it is very rare you’ll have that, unless you are a big, wealthy campaign.
The hope is that you will figure out what kinds of candidates did well and where they did well. You will want to know where the turnout was strong. You will also want to see where the Republicans are, who voted, and how often. As for activists, you’ll turn to your local RTC, and hope they can help you. (Chances are, they can’t do much.)
In terms of campaign issues, most candidates start with strong opinions about only a few things, and some broad principles. There is usually a lot of room for adaptation – especially on local concerns. What else should the candidate run on? They probably aren’t sure. (Perhaps an ethnic group has a political itch that no one has tried to scratch. How would you know about it?)
Here are some questions that candidates without a lot of money would love to know:
1. Of the registered Republicans in this district, what statewide and local issues are most important to them?
2. How many Republicans are willing to be involved in a campaign? Where are they? Would they prefer direct mail, phone calls, visits, or online outreach? Are they involved in their RTC? Some other political group? Are they tech-savvy? (i.e. can I just use online stuff or do they really need direct mail?)
3. How do unenrolled voters feel about the issues here? What would they like to see in a Republican candidate?
Yet, unless they are running somewhere that has fantastic RTCs (rare!), they won’t know any of this, despite what a huge impact it might have on the success of a campaign.
To solve this problem and improve every small campaign in the state, I propose that we conduct a Census, once every few years. It will cover Republicans and unenrolled voters, though we will not ask them the same things. (Why the unenrolled? Because with only 11%, we need most of them to get to a majority in every race.)
The Census would have the following features and benefits:
1. Get the opinions of registered republicans on party policies and activities – both for the entire state and in their districts.
2. Gauge the tech-savvy of Republicans to see how much training we need to do and how comfortable they are in using tech to be involved.
3. Find out what unenrolled voters would like the GOP to accomplish if we were in office – especially in the cities and among minority groups.
4. Break down the data by location, age, race, and other characteristics.
1. Candidates would have the ability to know what kinds of potential activists there are locally, and what they could do to help.
2. By figuring out what Republican issues are most important locally, it is more likely you will be able to fire up and turn out the ones in your district.
3. The polling of unenrolled voters would be immensely useful in finding issues to run on that we might not be thinking about.
HOW TO DO THIS
There are probably two ways to do this:
1. We could be constantly doing this ourselves using direct mail, phone calls, and online tools (something like SurveyMonkey) and gradually add more and more data to a central repository. We could then create software that would analyze that data. Or we could use a software-as-service solution like GoodData (www.gooddata.com). This voter management isn’t trivial and I will cover it in a separate post.
2. We could hire a professional polling firm. This would cost more, but at least it would be conducted in a professional way and be more respected. We would still have to take that data and make it available.
ARE THE CANDIDATES TALKING ABOUT THIS?
Well… at least a little. Kirsten Hughes has spoken about reaching out to new demographics and sharing data across campaigns. Rick Green has said repeatedly that we must “listen to voters,” especially in the cities.
The wealthy campaigns are never going to share the data they have gotten because they have paid a lot of money to get it. (Yes, there may be some data-sharing agreements that could be made.) But I believe strongly the state party should invest in a census of Republican and unenrolled voters – tailored to help campaigns – and then make it available to all campaigns and RTCs. Those campaigns could then improve that data, and give it back to the common repository to help others. This gets at the issue of “positive equity” that David and Dean have spoken about. If every campaign took this data, improved it, and gave it back, that would help the local RTCs and future campaigns.