Political Campaigning 101: Building a List of Target Voters and Supporters

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As you prepare to launch your political campaign, we encourage you to take several hours to map out your strategy for effectively identifying potential voters and supporters. This process might be a little daunting for a first-time candidate, but do some research, ask around to those in the political community and start with these four steps:

Do some political mapping

Who are the people and organizations that matter in your race? Unions, local elected officials at all levels, party leaders, community leaders, church leaders, business leaders and others. Who did other candidates list as their endorsers in the past? That’s a great way to start — go through the websites of local candidates and look at who like-minded candidates list as their endorsers. That should be a pretty good initial guide.

Start on those lists. Good campaigns have good lists

Go through every email you have ever sent, or ever received, and make sure you have a list of updated email addresses. Try to get at least 500 if you can. Most email programs will let you export a file of emails you have sent and even emails you have received. After you have downloaded all of these and de-duped (Excel and most database programs will help you remove duplicates), apply some human intelligence. The guy trying to sell you printer toner can probably come off the list.

Get voter lists to start your walk and phone program

Okay — this is really important. You need to stop and think about where you can find the best data available to you. Almost every local election office will give or sell to you at a minimal cost a list of every registered voter. If this is the only option, it will have to work.

But if you can invest in only one professional service, we recommend that you get a professional voter data firm to provide you with lists (and many have other tools you can use). If you are a progressive Democrat, the Voter Activation Network (or simply VAN as it is called) is a great choice.

Good data is important for many reasons. It will help you segment who is likely to vote in your election. If you are going into a race with a likely 50% turnout, predicting correctly who those voters will be makes you up to twice as efficient.

Target your efforts.

Big campaigns spend lots of time on targeting (choosing which voters to communicate with) and you will hear a lot about this if you are talking to consultants. This usually means two things: a way to identify voters who are likely to say yes and a way to eliminate voters who will likely say no. Sadly, our society is now so partisan that Republicans almost never vote for Democrats and vice-versa — so a Democratic campaign is likely to target soft Democratic supporters and Independent voters and essentially eliminate Republican voters from campaign efforts. Targeting also involves identifying voters by issue interest; for example, senior voters might hear about Medicare, very young voters about college affordability and 30- to 40-something voters about schools or child care.

Your race might not be so complicated — but here are some targeting efforts you should think about.

  1. Target those voters who are going to vote, not those voters who never vote. There is some wiggle room here, but if a voter has skipped the last four elections, leave them out. They are unlikely to vote in the next election (most data vendors have good tools to predict who is and who is not going to vote).
  2. Try to target in a way that works from your anticipated base outward. So walk your own precinct first, then areas around it. One of the key reasons for this is that as you walk you want to be identifying supporters as well as recruiting volunteers. You will recruit more volunteers from your base than from the public at large.

If you have a clearly anticipated supporter base—for example you are an Asian-American candidate and Asian-American voters have a local history of supporting Asian-American candidates—contact all these voters early (by phone, precinct walking, etc.). It will help you build up your support list and recruit volunteers.

Want more information as a first-time candidate for elected office? Download our e-book designed to walk candidates through the process of running – and winning – their first political campaigns here.

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