The Republican Party has notched especially impressive wins in elections over the past half year. GOP operatives had been stung by the savvy use of technology by Democrats who engineered impressive wins for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Beginning under the leadership of recently departed White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee (RNC) started investing heavily to boosts its data technology in 2013. Since then, it’s spent $175 million on the effort.
Its analytics have been credited with assisting Donald Trump in winning the Electoral College last November, with narrow victories in several states that had voted Democratic since 2000.
RNC Midwestern Regional Political Director Mark Jefferson notes Hillary Clinton acknowledged after the election that Republicans seemed to have access to better information.
“You saw Hillary Clinton saying recently that one of the problems she faced in her campaign was she didn’t get the quality of data that their side had been used to, and that the Republicans had an operation to turn over to the nominee that she just didn’t have access to” said Jefferson.
In two more recent special elections, the GOP pulled off solid victories in Montana and Georgia that Democrats and many pundits had predicted would be much closer.
Republican congressional candidates won in Montana by six points, and in Georgia by a four point margin. The Georgia contest was especially impressive after the Democrat rose from obscurity to raise $25 million in the most expensive U.S. House race in history.
RNC Director of External Support Conor Maguire says the committee’s predictive analytics were spot on.
“We got very close with both Montana, where we predicted turnout within less than 870 votes and the margin within .1%” said Maguire. “And then down in Georgia, which became a national race, we predicted that race exactly with the margins.”
Through its research, the RNC knew a majority of 20,000 swing voters had to be mobilized in the Georgia 6th District election. With access to names and addresses, and knowledge of how likely each voter was to support the GOP candidate, Republican workers contacted enough of them to secure a victory.
Maguire says the RNC has a warehouse of over 300 terabytes of data it can use to target high value swing voters.
“We can really harness that to find direct messages, and how to contact people, when to contact them, and (find out) what they want to talk about” Maguire said. “We can determine the time of day when they’ll answer the door, and what medium they’ll respond to.”
Jefferson, the Regional Political Director, says the RNC has been successful using data to arm traditional canvassers who go door-to-door.
“When you go out and hit doors of people that you know are either swing voters, people who you know that will vote for you if you can just get them to the polls, you’re maximizing your effort by hitting those people that you need to hit.”
The RNC hopes to create results in Missouri’s 2018 races similar to what took place in 2016. Jefferson notes the committee’s analytics played a key role in securing major statewide offices for the party.
“Senator (Roy) Blunt was reelected in a very competitive race. The governor (Eric Greitens) won a seat that was held by the Democrats.”
RNC Regional Communications Director Christiana Purves says the committee’s analytics show that Democrats face challenges in the state.
“74 percent of Missourians want congressional Democrats to find a way to work with President Trump, and not just throw out resistance and obstructionist rhetoric” said Purves. “And on top of that, a majority of those 74% want congressional Democrats to be voted out of office if they don’t find a way to work with the administration.”
Jefferson thinks Republicans will have to work hard to defeat Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, even though RNC data shows the state trending in favor of the GOP.
“She’s won here before and we know that we have a tough fight on our hands. But we’re going to be ready for it this time. We’re going to put together all the data we possibly can to make sure that (our) nominee gets across the finish line.”
McCaskill is seeking her third term in the Senate in 2018.
(The three RNC members – Regional Communications Director Christiana Purves, Midwestern Regional Political Director Mark Jefferson and Director of External Support Conor Maguire – recently visited the Missourinet studios to discuss the committee’s data-driven strategies)