Democratic Direct Mail Voter File Guide

by Elena Veatch

Mailbox with digital pixels coming out of it

Democratic Direct Mail Tip - Be Data Savvy 

Good data makes all the difference in building an effective Democratic direct mail program. Understanding your voter file access options is critical to laying the groundwork for a strategically targeted voter communications campaign. What’s more, knowing the ins and outs of voter file models and other data points will help you maximize your resources—after all, you can’t afford to target every voter in your electoral geography.

Voter File Access Considerations 

Your Democratic direct mail is only as good as the data that gets it into mailboxes—be thoughtful about where you’re purchasing data and how you’re harnessing it once it’s in your hands. 

Most of the time, your state party will be the best vehicle for accessing the voter file (though depending on your state party’s rules, you may need to look elsewhere if you’re running in a local nonpartisan race). These files are reliable—they’re regularly updated and maintained. State party files usually have all the information you need for your Democratic direct mail program, including accurate addresses, demographic data, and phone numbers. Some of these files include predictive voter file models that can help you target people who are likely to turn out in your election or support the causes you champion. One thing to keep in mind: If you’re challenging an incumbent and your state party has declined to give you voter file access, you may need to reach out directly to one of the data platforms/firms we list below.

We typically advise against using voter files that come straight from your state or county board of elections. These files will be cheap (sometimes even free), but they won’t be clean, and they may contain inaccurate information. These files are often not entered through the national change of address (NCOA) system, meaning you’ll be left with data that includes folks who have moved out of state/district or even died. While your mailshop/printer can usually help clean up your file, starting with a messy dataset makes it difficult to budget accurately and target strategically for mail. Board of elections files may not be available in an accessible format, either—you might end up with a PDF or a physical CD instead of a clean spreadsheet, which can be a headache when you’re trying to build a quick-turn campaign.

The bottom line is that data hygiene matters for your Democratic direct mail, field, and digital programs. Having an organized list with reliable data points makes all the difference in engaging the right people and tracking their interactions with your campaign. If you’re mailing to 20,000 households and 10 percent of your records (2,000) contain inaccurate information, costs can add up. Resources are precious and you don’t want to waste dollars communicating with the wrong folks (or lose your election because you failed to reach the right people). 

Data Platforms, Tools, and Firms to Consider

If you can’t access the voter file through your state party, below are some platforms and tools you can pursue to get the data you need to win your campaign. 

  • TargetSmart is a private progressive data firm that specializes in providing high-quality data and integration technologies to campaigns and organizations. TargetSmart utilizes voter registration and turnout data as well as consumer marketing information and advanced modeling techniques to help you build custom-targeted Democratic direct mail campaigns and other programs. Their system is intuitive and easy to use. 
  • Catalist is another large, private progressive firm that provides data and other data-related services to campaigns and organizations to help them identify and communicate with the people they need to persuade and mobilize. Catalist contains data on the entire U.S. adult population (over 240 million voting-age individuals), helping you target registered voters as well as unregistered folks. 
  • L2 is a private nonpartisan company that can integrate with a wide range of political platforms and tools. L2 has a self-service national VoterMapping tool that allows you to drill down to the household level (with houses color-coded by party affiliation of household members) to visualize data before you purchase it. Like TargetSmart and Catalist, L2 has a concierge service as well, so you can get targeting advice from analytics professionals.
  • SmartVAN is a product of NGP VAN and TargetSmart that combines updated and robust voter file data with VAN field campaign software (used by Obama and virtually every other Democratic candidate as well as most national progressive political organizations and unions). The data and the software are available separately, so you’ll want to make sure you’re purchasing a package that fits your needs. 
  • NationBuilder is a nonpartisan firm whose mission is to connect leaders with affordable, high-quality databases and communications tools. Businesses, nonprofits, and politicians use NationBuilder to organize their communities and build more meaningful relationships with customers, supporters, and constituents.

Voter File Targeting Considerations

While weighing your voter file access options, you should investigate the modeled data that will be included in your package. Voter file models are built by analytics professionals who understand statistics—they utilize demographic, behavioral, commercial, and other data points to create models that score the probability that an individual in the voter file will act in a certain way or support/oppose a specific issue.

Some models that may be particularly helpful for your Democratic direct mail program include:

  • Vote propensity: What’s the probability that an individual will vote in a given election?
  • Partisanship: What’s the probability that an individual identifies as a Democrat? 
  • Ideology: What’s the probability that an individual identifies as liberal? (Note: This model is particularly helpful for organizations running c3 campaigns that can’t use party identification in their targeting parameters.)
  • Issue models: If you’re a progressive organization, you may want to see if you can access models that predict support for addressing climate change, expanding access to affordable health care, and other issues.

While voter file models can take your Democratic direct mail targeting to the next level, always remember that they’re predictive, not deterministic. Don’t rely too heavily on any model or go crazy paying extra for models you don’t need. We often find that marrying vote history (non-modeled, concrete data) with partisanship or ideology scores can get the job done best.

Do you have more questions about accessing the voter file and using the data you acquire to run an effective Democratic direct mail, field, or digital advertising campaign? Give our team a call any time!