In Florida in 2018, the DeSantis and Scott campaigns got behind on their door-to-door efforts targeting voters who could be persuaded to vote for them. An outside group, thankfully, was also doing door-to-door efforts, finding persuadable voters, and making sure that those who were definitely voting actually showed up. That outside effort more likely than not saved Florida. In fact, multiple sources have told me that the outside effort was so thorough and used such a robust tech platform that they were confident DeSantis and Scott were going to win prior to the election just because of the data they had collected on door to door efforts.
As media buys get more expensive and less people see them because attention is now on streaming services, both parties have to invest more in ground games. The ground games work in three parts.
The first part involves finding dependable voters who you know will turn out for you and making contact with those voters at their front doors.
The second part involves finding persuadable voters who you can make contact with at their front doors to persuade them and get their support.
The third part involves keeping a list of the dependable voters and the voters you have persuaded and making sure they all actually vote by absentee ballot or on Election Day.
For the past forty years, political data has consistently shown that voters who are contacted in face to face communication are the most dependable voters. As a result, campaigns have amassed an army of volunteers who can go door to door, knock on doors, and try to convince voters to give their support to a candidate.
Unfortunately, at least on the Republican side, voter apathy has set in. More and more volunteers think posting on social media is as persuasive as knocking on their neighbor’s door. But it is not. Consequently, Republicans need paid door-to-door efforts. These efforts, in turn, are fraught with problems. Campaigns insist on metrics and workers can lose their jobs if they do not meet the metrics. As a result, the risk of fraudulent data increases.
Various Republican firms have figured all this out and have developed software and apps that volunteers and paid workers can use. The apps generate a list of voters in a selected neighborhood, weed out the Democrats, and provide a list of voters who are either reliably Republican or swing voters. Campaigns can then generate walk maps to go door to door or lists from which they can phone those people. Often, campaigns will do a phone bank, make sure the voter is persuadable, then send a volunteer or the candidate himself to knock on the door.
But reports are starting to trickle out that the data and the effort may not be reliable and may be filled with falsified data.
This write up has started making the rounds among Republican consultants and data specialists. The writer, Austin Evans, says he was a field organizer for Governor Abbott’s re-election in Texas and things did not go well.
According to Evans, there were voter contact goals and, he alleges, some people falsified data to make it look like they were contacting more voters than they actually did. While some apps that assist in door-to-door efforts make it nearly impossible to claim a voter has been contacted unless GPS on the app shows the worker is in the vicinity of the voter’s home, Evans suggests there was something going on.
Evans wrote, “I truly believe had information been accurate with voter IDs, Ted Cruz would have won by at least a couple more points than he did.”
A national Republican I spoke to who was familiar with the ground game in Texas tells me he thinks they probably did have bad door-to-door data because of both how the campaigns were reacting on the night of the election and the metrics they were claiming. “The two together made no sense. There had to be bad data,” he told me for the actual outcome to be what it was in the face of genuine confidence about the election. “People were relaying to us data that ultimately did not line up with reality on Election Day.”
Bad data is going to generate bad analytics. If campaigns are recording more voter contacts than are actually being made, they will have a false sense of the campaign. It is possible to mitigate this with good software that relies on GPS data to confirm a worker is actually in the vicinity of voter’s home when the worker claims to have made contact. But the app needs to work right and be usable.
Another source I spoke to in a different state, but using the same system Abbott’s team used, tells me that reliance in his state on campaign volunteers was a disaster. The volunteers did not work as hard as paid door knockers and both coordination and training were subpar. On top of all that, the app being used by this person’s campaign to help facilitate door knocking was bad. According to this person, the app was slow, it ate up a cell phone’s batteries very quickly, it did not sync in real time, and often maps would not line up with the data presented. Again, there were minimal failsafes to make sure voter contact data was being entered honestly.
These are all real problems headed into 2020. What’s worse, these are problems the GOP had in 2012 when the infamous “Project ORCA” experience imploded as Romney’s team tried to get out the vote for the election. We should not be having to deal with this all over again. The Democrats already have many technology advantages.
In Georgia, Brian Kemp’s team used the same system as that outside group in Florida. The system worked and they relied on paid door knockers instead of volunteers. The results speak for themselves. National groups promised to deal with the situation in suburban Atlanta and never actually did it. The volunteer effort in the Atlanta suburbans collapsed, but the paid effort with competent software and apps in rural parts of Georgia saved the day, just as it had in Florida.
The GOP needs to get on this issue quick. The party needs to budget for paid door knockers in key swing states and needs to make sure its technology is robust and smart enough to not get fooled by fraudulent data. Florida and Georgia show real cases where that combination of paid door knockers and robust apps with honest data can save close races. But time is wasting. In Georgia, for example, Democrats have already poured into the state and are already engaged in both identifying voters and making contact with them. Republicans need to up their game and do so quickly.