Ask any party operative and they’ll tell you that a ground game wins or loses elections. But new voter ID laws and expansive targeting technology have made get-out-the-vote efforts even more complicated and crucial for this year’s midterms and the next presidential election for both parties. After Republicans faced devastating losses in 2012, the GOP is investing heavily in its ground game to prevent a similar outcome in the 2016 presidential year, when Democrats will have the advantage. But Democrats are more immediately worried about 2014. After historic losses in the 2010 elections, when crucial voting blocs stayed home, the party is gearing up for another tough midterm fight by investing tens of millions of dollars in turnout operations in competitive Senate states to translate their presidential ground-game advantage to the midterms. Jeremy Bird, the architect of Obama’s revolutionary data operation, is now involved in that effort with his consulting firm, 270 Strategies. Bird said while many of the same tactics apply, Democrats have to grapple with a different universe of voters in the midterm elections. “We’re not trying to recreate the presidential electorate but trying to create a winning midterm electorate. We’re trying to figure out who are those drop-off voters. Who are the voters likely to vote in presidential elections and likely to vote in midterms if you engage them, educate them and turn them out?” he said.
Democrats are looking to last year’s successful Virginia gubernatorial race as a guide for their midterm turnout efforts. They plan to more widely use tools that had been helpful on the presidential level but were not yet tailored for local races until Virginia, like an app to help voters find their polls and vote pledges they can have their voters sign as later reminders.
Matt Holleque, co-founder of BlueLabs, the data firm that helped guide Democrat Terry McAuliffe to a win in the swing state, said part of the effort relies on figuring out how to develop the right message for the right voters. “We’re improving the accuracy of our modeling systems, identifying the right targets to turn out, and figuring out the best way to frame the importance of voting so that voters can appreciate the message that you’re bringing to them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans are also investing in their turnout operation and trying to catch up to Democrats. Republican National Committee communications director Kirsten Kukowski said, where the GOP had previously focused on the volume of its contacts in turning voters out, the party is now warming up to the idea that the quality of those contacts matters just as much, if not more.