Democratic Direct Mail Targeting

by The Campaign Workshop


Democratic Direct Mail Targeting - Using Advanced Data & Models

Democratic direct mail targeting used to be seen as a mysterious realm where political consultants pulled voter targets out from behind a magic curtain. With the advent of modern voter file software by folks like Catalist, NGP VAN, Targetsmart, NationBuilder and L2, you can have direct access to the voter data and models you need to make targeting decisions for your campaign. But if this is the first time you are running a campaign or working with voter data, here are some tips for Democratic direct mail targeting, these tips will also be helpful in developing your field and phone program.

Get access to a good voter file. You should be able get access to a good voter file through your Democratic state party, but in some municipal campaigns and primaries that might not be possible. Some other options to look at for Democratic direct mail targeting are Catalist, Labels and Lists, and NationBuilder. They – and a number of other firms – all have good voter files and most offer at least some basic models to help you identify your best targets.

Have a vote goal. When you are creating a plan for your campaign’s field and direct mail targeting, the first step is to create a vote goal to pinpoint how many votes you need to win your campaign. A vote goal will allow you to know how large your mail and field universe needs to be. This is critical. A classic campaign mistake is to not attach your mail and field universe to the vote goal you need to win. Mail too many voters and you won't get enough repetition, mail too few and your message falls short. A vote goal will also allow you to define demographic and geographic targets. Look at similar past election results – who showed up in past elections, how did they likely vote?  Then think about who is likely to show up in this election and who are they likely to vote for.

Know who will vote. As you define your vote goal you need to also explore who will actually vote in your election. Dig into your voter file and look at who makes up a likely voter universe. If you are using a voter file with data modeling, be sure to use the most current vote propensity model to help gauge this. Even the best vote propensity model isn’t a guarantee of who will show up, but it is a great place to start.

Use your research. Polling, your message box, and opposition research should all be used in deciding which voters you need to communicate with.

Using modeled data. A good vote propensity score and partisanship score are your keys to identifying the best universe for field and direct mail targeting. Some states don’t have party registration on their file – making a good partisanship score irreplaceable – and even with states that have partisanship on their file, a good model will help you better refine your universe. Also critical, as we mentioned above, is a good vote propensity score for your election – what are the chances any given voter will vote in your election. Make sure to use the model that best reflects your election. Is it an off-year municipal election? Are you running down ballot in a Presidential year? Many firms offer various vote propensity models. Make sure you are using the one that best will identify voters in your specific race. There are lots and lots of other models out there. Use them where you need to, but use them wisely. Most models will answer a single question, (e.g., Who is most likely to vote in the 2013 November General Election?). If your direct mail targeting includes a model, knowing what question your model answers is key to success.  Trying to force a model to work beyond that question is where you’ll run into big problems – it’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Don't just guess. If you are not sure, investigate. Ask questions of your consultants and data folks. Don't just send a canvas crew out without checking out the turf. Don’t just send out mail without double-checking your targets.

Utilize your team. Staff, volunteers, interest groups and consultants – yes even consultants – play a valuable role on your team, so use them. They have resources that can help you fine-tune your field and direct mail targeting. Many mail firms will help you identify your field universes when they build your mail universe, give you targets to pull, and even write canvas scripts without additional costs. Make sure to ask.

Have questions about Democratic direct mail targeting?  Add them in the comments below.