When you display big buckets of voter data on a map–coded red for Republican and blue for Democrat–the United States is clearly a purple country.

Every campaign, from presidential to local elections, relies on big data. Specifically, campaigns buy voter information and social media data. L2 Political is one of the most widely used campaign data vendors. Customers range from presidential campaigns to local elections to PACs. The product is a powerful window to information like voter name, party affiliation, voting history, and other demographic and geographic information. L2 displays voter data on a map overlay and spits out information in common file formats like CSV.

Big data is has become a critical tool for campaigns. TechRepublic spoke with L2’s Director of Communications Paul Westcott about how voter information is bought and sold, the future of data management, and how information tools help campaigns, firms, and SMBs better understand markets.

The phrase “big data” gets thrown around a lot these days, but what specific types of data are used by campaigns?

Campaigns are starting to rival the brand side of the business in the amount of information they use to microtarget individuals. Voter files themselves are powerful tools that give you some very strong baseline information including [voter] name, age, party ID, gender, complex voting history, and address.

In order to make these segments usable we created a selection and visualization tool called L2 VoterMapping. L2 VoterMapping allows users to make selections instantly, get [numbers], and build universes for outreach like mailing, phones, [canvass] walk lists, and digital targeting like email, cookie, and device ID tracking.

Here are a few of the datasets used by L2:

  • Consumer data, e.g., Income, Education, Children, Occupation, and Hobbies & Interests.
  • Census data
  • Contribution data, both private file and FEC
  • HaystaqDNA Modeled Issue Data. This is modeled data that gives scores to individual voters on gun control, gay marriage, abortion, rideshare, and turnout.
  • Other Government data, e.g., gun ownership.

SEE: Big decisions with big data (Tech Pro Research story)

Can you explain how voter data has evolved?

Political data used to be limited to address, simple vote history, and possibly party ID. And the only data came from states and counties. L2 started in 1975 as ‘Labels & Lists’ in Washington state, and made that data actionable by allowing a client to call our offices, request a broad or targeted group of individuals, and print a walk or call list or mailing labels. In the last 40 years the amount of data and the ways [data] is used has grown exponentially.

Where and how do you acquire data?

[Our] data comes from a variety of sources, including states, and counties and municipalities that provide the raw voter data. Once that data is brought in it is scrubbed against the national change of address database, the Social Security death index, and commercial files among scores of other checks. The commercial data comes from a variety of sources, including Experian.

We have hundreds of segments of voter, demographic, consumer, census, contribution and modeled issue data. Data itself can be delivered via secure FTP, API, or through our platform.

How is social media data used by campaigns, and by business?

Social media outreach, specifically Facebook, has been in high demand this year. While we don’t append social media handles directly to the voter file, we [use] LiveRamp. LiveRamp attaches cookies and Device IDs, and allows for digital targeting through social media. We’re also working with a number of companies that specifically take high-quality, off-line lists, create segments, and upload to Facebook allowing campaigns and other organizations the ability to target ads to specific voters.

READ: The Power of IoT and Big Data (Tech Pro Research insights)

Based on your data, what issues do voters care about this year?

L2 is working with HaystaqDNA, who built the models for Obama for America. They built dozens of issue-specific models. This allows us to [understand] what voters think about about guns, abortion, gay marriage, turnout, marijuana legalization, rideshare, immigration and other issues. This also brings high-quality presidential campaign data down to campaigns on the local level. e019 Keep current with campaign innovations and subscribe for free to the TechRepublic Election Tech newsletter

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Note: some quotes have been edited for clarity.