Mitt Romney won an unsurprising victory in New Hampshire January 10. The question now is, can he tighten his grip on the Republican nomination before the month is over with two more wins in South Carolina (January 21) and Florida (January 31)?
If more races end up as close as Iowa—8 votes separating Romney and Rick Santorum—quality targeting of voter contact could be decisive.
When it comes to this, Romney has an advantage over most rivals, beyond his money, his momentum, and his lead in the polls—he has a well-developed, functioning, and battle-tested targeting infrastructure in place. He seems to be ahead in the GOP data race.
Writing on Slate, Sasha Issenberg (I’m eagerly awaiting his forthcoming book, The Victory Lab) has a nice piece reviewing how the campaign has been combining detailed individual-level data from consumer companies, voter files, and campaign-collected ID-data from both 2007-2008 and the current cycle to develop a detailed picture of solid and likely supporters and who might be persuaded if approached in the right fashion with the right message.
The point of targeting is very simple—if you know who to talk to and what to talk about, you get more bang for your buck (or out of your volunteers’ efforts).
Rommey’s campaign is still working with TargetPoint Consulting and Alex Gage, who pioneered the use of predictive modelling for voter contacts back in 2002 when Romney was running for Governor of Massachusetts and successfully branded it as “microtargeting.” Though some say Ron Paul also has a sophisticated targeting operation going (I’d be interested to read more on this, so send any links you have my way), Romney seems a step ahead of most of the other Republican candidates in this respect, a considerable advantage in the coming primaries. Newt Gingrich may know roughly how many percent of the electorate supports him in a given state. The Romney campaign will have an analytically-based sense of which individuals in the electorate in a given state support their guy. That makes persuasion and get-out-the-vote efforts a good deal easier and more effective.
Here is how one Republican strategist, speaking to the LA Times, describes the situation after New Hampshire:
“The larger the state is, the harder it is to do effective voter contact — because there’s more people to contact, identify and recontact,” said Charlie Black, a strategist for 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who has informally offered advice to Romney from time to time this cycle. “The underdog candidates, even if they got hot and won a primary, don’t have time to develop and install this kind of system in a matter of weeks. “It’s expensive. It’s part of having a sophisticated national campaign that’s well-funded,” Black said, “and they’re really the only such campaign out there this time.”
Rick Santorum’s surprise surge in Iowa shows that being in the right place at the right time can get you a good result, but anyone hoping to beat Romney to the nomination will have to prepare for the long haul, and that involves building the kind of ground war operation, with organizers, volunteers, and quality targeting, that few other Republican candidates seem to have at this time.
My book, Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns, deals with how American political campaigns mobilize, organize, and target their field operations, using large numbers of volunteers and paid part-timer workers to contact voters at home at the door or over the phone. It will be published in February 2012 by Princeton University Press and is available for pre-order on Amazon.