Big Data

How political campaigns use big data to get out the vote

Paul Westcott, vice president of data at L2 Political, explains why automation powered by big voter data is the true winner of the 2018 midterm elections.

It is an election year. If you will recall, at TechRepublic and ZDNet in 2016, we tracked not the horse race, but the data and technology that powers politics. Why? Because there's a ton of information private industry and other institutions, like academics and NGOs, can get from learning how politics use and doesn't use data.

TechRepublic met with Paul Westcott, vice president of data at L2 Political, one of the largest data vendors in politics. The political world is its own world, and for those who don't know about how politics and data are working together, tell me a little bit about what L2 does.

Westcott: L2 is the longest serving, over 43 years, and largest non-partisan data processing firm. So that means we bring in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. voter files, country level voter files for multiple states, process those, put them into a uniform format, and then make them available for different elections, various academic organizations, as you mentioned, non-profits, a whole wide range of people who can actually have legal access to the voter file.

And on top of that, what we're able to do is add in consumer-based information, predictive models, phone number, and outreach information, such as email, Facebook, Twitter handles, all that good stuff. So campaigns are able to speak more targeted to individual voters or academics are able to do the research they need to do.

Patterson: And when you say "target individual voters," you're not being hyperbolic or exaggerating. When I log into L2, I'm confronted with an overwhelming amount of information that is incredibly granular. Paul, tell me what you can see about a voter and about voters grouped together and what those groups are.

Westcott: What voter mapping does in the platform you were working in, essentially it takes the voter file, which is a giant either text or CSV file, a giant fire hose of data essentially that is almost unusable, especially if you're a small or shoestring-type organization or campaign. And what we do is we put everything into really simple, selectable, different selections on the right-hand side of this mapping platform.

And what you see when you open up voter mapping is you can select by party identification. You can look into vote history and registration date, those kind of standards of the voter file. But beyond there, you can go into consumer information, income, education level, census data based on unemployment rates in different areas. You can look at donor information, both from the Federal Election Commission file, as well as private donor file that we obtain from various third-party sources.

So we're bringing in data from all kinds of different places to be able to put it together in a really usable and visually-friendly-type format.

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Image: iStock/TheaDesign

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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