Voter Targeting 101

August 13, 2012 | By Leadership Institute Staff

If you want to learn more, register for the Leadership Institute’s Get-Out-the-Vote Workshops in battleground states, or for a free webinar this Wednesday at 7pm EST on voter targeting.

 
Winning an election does not require winning 100% of the vote – only enough votes necessary to win. 
 
In many cases this is a plurality of the vote.  In other cases when a runoff election is involved, candidates may set a vote goal of reaching a clear majority when it would avoid a runoff election.  In any case, the campaign must determine an exact number of votes it plans to reach to win the election.  (Learn how to do this in a free, live webinar this Wednesday night, August 15.) Voter contact is then aimed at building to the specified vote goal.
 
Why target?
 
Campaign resources, particularly time and money, are limited.
 
Voter targeting makes you more efficient and more effective. You’re more effective because you get the right message to the right voters. You’re more effective because you target your resources at the voters you’re most likely to persuade to vote.
 
Think of the process.
 
You start by targeting voters who always vote, either your way or they’re swing (i.e. undecided) voters.
 
Then you target people who sometimes vote, either your way (encourage them with get-out-the-vote messages) or are swing voters (help persuade them your candidate is the one).
 
Only after you’ve thoroughly exhausted your contacts with those groups of voters should you target voters unlikely to turn out to the polls.
 
It wouldn’t make sense to the do the reverse, would it?
 
How is targeting done?
 
One set of factors involves who exactly can vote in the election.  While in a general election any registered voter may cast a ballot, different rules typically apply in primary elections (e.g. closed primary elections based on party registration). Voter contact is aimed at voters who can actually vote in the election.
 
A second set of factors involves which voters are likely to vote in the election.  Voter turnout rates are typically highest in a general election in a presidential year.  General elections in non-presidential years see lower turnout rates, as do primary elections.  The lowest turnout rates are often seen in special elections.
 
Campaigns can determine how voters plan to vote through several means, each with varying levels of accuracy.
 
Voter identification refers to the practice of contacting individual voters and asking them if they plan to support a particular candidate in the upcoming election.  The practice is similar to telephone polling, but differs in two ways.  
 
First, a much larger number of calls is involved because the purpose is to identify with certainty how each targeted person plans to vote, rather than extrapolating based on a limited sample size.  Second, with voter identification programs, each voter’s responses are recorded and stored in a database.
 
Polling can also be used to determine segments of the electorate that should be targeted for persuasion and turnout efforts.  The practice can be less costly than voter ID programs, but accuracy is diminished because assumptions are used to determine the sentiment of large groups of voters.
 
As the campaign engages in voter contact, the first step normally involves building a level of familiarity with voters who are part of the campaign’s target universe.  This involves building name recognition and credibility that is vital for future persuasion and turnout messages to be effective.
 
Voter identification programs take place once voters have received some level of contact (or have pre-existing familiarity with the candidate).  
 
Voters positively identified as supporters become targets of future turnout messages as Election Day approaches.
 
Voters who are in the target universe but are undecided become targets for persuasion messages.
 
Voters who are firm opponents are usually removed from future contact.
 
Want to learn more?
 
The Leadership Institute will offer a free, live webinar this Wednesday at 7pm EST on voter targeting. If you can't watch it then, you'll find the replay on the website here later in the week.