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Using data to get the best from your canvass

Efficiency is paramount when it comes to any political campaign. For some politicians they pin their hopes of victory on the door-to-door canvassing aspect of their campaign. Conversation with your constituents is essential because it opens up a platform for debate and feedback, which in essence, is what politics encapsulates. In April 2015, the UK’s biggest parties, Labour and the Conservatives battled it out to try and obtain the swing votes which could see their respective parties seize control in the general election. It is no secret that canvassing can stimulate people to vote in your favor, but putting in place a strategic plan in order to utilize resources intelligently is a different issue.

The Failure of Labour's Data in 2015

Andrew Whitehurst of Wess Digital Ltd, a London based firm, knows more about this problem than others as he runs digital campaigns for all three major UK parties. According to Whitehurst, acquiring the ‘all-important’ canvassing data is a major challenge in the UK, due to the ‘hampering ability to access and record voter preferences in detail’. Ed Miliband was famously quoted as saying that Labour canvassers would try to have ‘four million conversations’ with voters on their doorstep by polling day. While this showed passion for interaction with the public, was it completely unrealistic and futile considering the results of the election? If Miliband and his party used their resources more intelligently would he had to have four million conversations? The failure of Labour's 2015 election campaign can reasonably be seen as a failure of data.

Obama V Romney - The Ground Game

Door to door canvassing is known as ‘ground game’ in the US and in the 2012 election, it was this that ultimately separated the two candidates. During the 2012 Presidential election, Mitt Romney believed his ‘ground game’ to be superior to that of Obama’s. Not convinced the young voters and minorities of 2008’s wonder run would return at the polls, Romney was left dumbfounded when he was defeated.

Barack Obama owes his second term in office largely to further advancement in technology. In the 2008 Presidential election, his team of coders and engineers developed a mobile app which allowed canvassers to download and return walk sheets without ever entering a campaign office. Obama’s targeters had assigned every voter in the country a pair of scores based on the probability that the individual would perform two distinct actions that mattered to the campaign: casting a ballot and supporting Obama. These scores were derived from an unprecedented volume of ongoing survey work. All this information helped when deciding on which door to knock on next.

Narwhal V Orca - The Data Game

In 2012, Obama’s team had compiled a database filled with names of millions of undecided voters and potential supporters, this helped them target new voters, register them and get them to the polls, this became known as Project Narwhal. The GOP, not to be outfoxed, developed a “super-secret, super-duper vote monitoring system that was dubbed Project Orca” according to Byron York of the Washington Examiner to contend with Obama’s toothed whale but was ultimately a failure. Crashing on election day, it left Romney canvassers walking around not knowing what door to knock on next. Ultimately, it seemed that the Obama campaign had out-punched the Romney side in their data analysis.
The Republicans were never able to match the Obama campaign’s ability to use data from purchase histories, voting registration, and campaign contacts to tailor specific messages to specific voters. The Democrats were able to use this kind of logic in deploying armies of volunteers and canvassers to target their voters over time. End result:Victory for Obama.

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