by Lois Beckett, ProPublica
The Republicans have admitted it: They need to get serious about collecting and analyzing voter data.
Well, you can’t get much more serious than talking to Teradata, the “data warehousing” company that helps Walmart, Apple and eBay store massive amounts of information about the behavior of their customers.
Teradata is just one of the major data outfits with which leading Republican strategists are talking in their declared effort to match Barack Obama’s big data campaign tactics, according to one person with knowledge of the strategy discussions.
The Republican National Committee would neither confirm nor deny talking with Teradata, but was emphatic that no deal is in place. Teradata also declined to comment. There’s unlikely to be any final deals until the RNC appoints a chief technology officer, which it has pledged to do by May 1.
But if Republican strategists are still shopping for formal partners, their goal is clear: a new, more open database that will make it easier for Republican candidates to share what they’re learning about voters — and for the party to share voter information with technology developers in order to build apps for use in coming campaigns.
“At lots of levels, for lots of reasons, there’s a lot of people that we’re talking to,” Mike Shields, the RNC’s new chief of staff, told ProPublica.
Both Republicans and Democrats already have databases of basic information about every voter in the United States. But Obama’s campaign made big strides in connecting data from different sources, like campaign donation records, consumer data and volunteer lists, in order to produce more detailed profiles of individual voters.
The Democratic National Committee has also streamlined the way information flows between local volunteers and the national party, so that data about voters collected by many different campaigns — such as a Minnesota voter’s stance on gay marriage or who a Virginia voter supported in a state senate race — all ends up in the same database in DC.
Republicans want to match these innovations — especially the flashy ones, like the Obama campaign’s ability to link people’s Facebook profiles to their official voting records. They also want to use data to make predictions about individual voters, not only about how to influence their vote, but about how to maximize their potential political donations.
This is where Teradata could certainly be useful. The company is not a data broker, an outfit that strictly sells information about consumers. (So, for instance, the GOP wouldn’t be getting any of Apple or Walmart’s data.) Instead, Teradata helps companies organize their own data, so that they can pick out unexpected trends — for instance, that Walmart shoppers stocking up for a hurricane often buy strawberry Pop-Tarts.
When working with Isle of Capri Casinos, Teradata built a system to combine information about customer gambling habits with data from the company’s hotels. The new system sends an automatic alert to casino hosts whenever a “high-value guest” arrives at a hotel. It also tracks how different customers respond to coupons, emails, and special offers.
This kind of detailed tracking has become ever more central to data-driven political campaigns. Almost every day, Obama’s re-election campaign tested 12 to 18 different email variations, before sending out the best-performing fundraising email to its entire list — a testing strategy that sometimes earned the campaign an extra million dollars, or more.
The campaign also tracked individual responses to email blasts — storing information on whether someone had, for instance, signed a card wishing Michelle Obama a Happy Mother’s Day, and using that information when asking the same people to sign a birthday card for Barack.
Obama’s data team also generated individualized predictions about voters. The team calculated, among other things, which people were most likely to be persuaded to support Obama based on a conversation about a certain policy issue — information that then allowed field organizers to be more strategic about the houses they visited and the phone calls they made.