Democrats strive to stay ahead in tech race

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The Democratic National Committee is pledging to maintain its data and technological advantage over the GOP to meet its biggest challenge yet: the 2014 midterm elections. 

Staffers at the DNC are working to translate many of the unprecedented data tools that made President Obama’s reelection campaign the most technologically savvy in history to campaigns up and down the ballot this election year.

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They believe in a cycle that has Democrats facing an unfavorable political climate and a heavy lift to keep the Senate and take back the House, their tech advantage will help them win “at the margins.”

“It will help us win some competitive races that we might not have otherwise won,” one DNC technology official said during a briefing for reporters at the committee’s Capitol Hill headquarters.

Democrats’ voter file — a decades-long treasure trove of constantly updated data and tools to streamline contacts and get-out-the-vote efforts — is now accessible and customizable for campaigns nationwide.

Those tools include a widget to help voters find directions to their nearest polling place and add a reminder to their calendars, as well as a real-time map outlining voter contacts that allows field volunteers to create canvassing strategies.

They’re also working to help campaigns take advantage of the party’s data and research on everything from media placement to the minutiae that guided the Obama campaign, like the best color for a donation button and the best subject line for an email.

And they believe that, despite a concerted effort by Republicans to catch up to the Democratic tech advantage, the GOP is simply too far behind to have any sort of substantial success this election cycle.

“This is kind of where we were in ‘03-’04. It took a couple of cycles to get our sea legs,” a DNC official said. “What the RNC is building now, maybe they’ll test in 2014, and maybe they’ll have it built out in 2016. That’s a best-case scenario.”

Democrats also point to what they say is a “culture” within the party that values the use of tech and data for campaign success that hasn’t yet been cultivated in the GOP. That culture within their party has been maintained, they say, because Obama disciples have branched out post-election to launch their own consulting firms or work on top races this cycle and spread the tech gospel.

Many of those tools were tested in the handful of 2013 races, including the New Jersey Senate special election and the Virginia gubernatorial race. The DNC has worked to incorporate feedback from Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s successful campaign for governor in Virginia in particular to reworking the tools for other campaigns.

They also point to the Virginia attorney general’s race, which came down to a recount separated by only hundreds of ballots, as evidence of what those tools can accomplish for campaigns nationwide.

When Republican Mark Obenshain pulled ahead of Democrat Mark Herring, analytics staffers at the DNC ran the data again, and their model again showed a win for the Democrat. The committee went into action that night to work on finding missing provisional ballots in targeted precincts. After a recount, Herring won.

Democrats admit, however, that the foundation the Obama campaign built in 2012 can only go so far. Unfortunately for them, their data files might be most lacking in some of the party’s toughest states this cycle, like Arkansas or Kentucky, where Obama didn’t attempt to compete.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some states that have seen a lot more campaign activity and, therefore, have a much richer voter file than others,” an official said.

A main priority for the committee over the past year has been working to “remedy any deficiencies” in the tech and data sphere the party might face in some of those competitive, GOP-leaning states in time for the election.

 

Such an effort requires considerable buy-in from candidates, who don’t often have the time or resources to commit to a substantial data effort. But DNC officials are also in constant contact with campaigns interested in using the tools, and they’re planning a March event to train staffers on some of the more competitive tools, so they can use them going forward.

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