In this section, we’ll share how your campaign can best use the voter file. Check out additional Campaign Helpdesk guides on what the voter file is, and how you can access it, if you haven't already.

There are two primary ways campaigns categorize voters they would like to contact. You’ll often hear these voters referred to as “universes.”

  1. A persuasion universe includes people who vote regularly, but usually choose to support moderates. As the name suggests, these are the people you believe you can persuade to vote for you.
  2. A get out the vote (GOTV) universe is the flip side of the persuasion universe. These are the people you are confident will vote for you, but also vote inconsistently and could use a motivational push.

People are bucketed into these groups using three main scores determined by predictive modeling:

  • Support score: Data is compiled from focus groups of citizens expressing opinions on candidates and issues. This data is then used to develop models that predict who other registered voters will support. This model generates what is called their support score. 
  • Turnout score: Turnout scores express the probability that a voter will show up to vote in a general election.
  • Persuasion model score: The persuasion score uses the data from support and turnout scores to determine which independent or undecided voters may be receptive to persuasion.

These scores are calculated using a number of variables:

  • Demographics
  • Primaries and elections in which they voted
  • Information from voter registration forms
  • Information from hundreds of sources, both commercial and public, such as the census

What do these scores mean for candidates?

Support scores usually range from 1-100 and measure whether or not someone is likely to support your candidate or issue.

For your persuasion universe, you’re looking for voters with support scores around 30-70. Because predictive modeling is a guess based around a type of voter, a score of 50 usually means one of two things - either the voter really is an undecided/moderate voter, or we don’t know much about them.

Collecting information from those middle scorers in the field and incorporating it into the modeling would allow you to update the uncertain support scores. If you don’t have access to a support score for the specific candidate or issue you’re working on, you can use a partisanship or ideology score as a proxy. These models are designed to find people who identify as Democrat/Republican or Progressive/Conservative.

Turnout scores usually range from 0-100. Most people don’t believe it’s worthwhile to reach out to someone with a turnout score below 10 or 20; they focus on those with turnout scores in the middle. Depending on your goals, you may also want to remove people with the highest turnout scores who will likely vote on their own. If you’re doing volunteer recruitment or another activity where you need highly motivated folks, then keep those high turnout score people in your universe.

Persuasion scores identify voters likely to shift their positions based on hearing specific campaign messaging. These types of scores are becoming more and more common. These models are typically centered on 0:

  • Negative scorers are voters who are likely to react negatively to your message.
  • Positive scorers are people who are likely to be persuaded by your message.

Score ranges vary but they’re generally on a scale of -5 to +5, and campaigns generally talk to people with a score of 2+.

What if a voter doesn’t have a score?

In some cases, you might notice that scores are all over the place or null for people you’ve registered to vote. This is to be expected. Models are only periodically scored, so new registrants often don't have scores. We're also likely to have less information on newly registered individuals, so the models may not have enough information assign a score.

We highly recommend that you put new registrants - including those who registered since the last general election - into your GOTV universe. Though they are likely to have low or no turnout scores, new registrants vote at higher rates than other registered voters with similar scores. They recently took action that shows that they're motivated to vote - registering - and they're likely to be included in turnout efforts, if they registered through a voter registration organization. There are a few states that are now doing “automatic voter registration.” It’s too early to have proper data to say for sure, but it’s likely that the turnout of individuals who are automatically registered will be lower than those who registered themselves.

Restrictions to use of the voter file

Restrictions to how you use the voter file vary by state, so be sure to familiarize yourself with limitations in your area. Here’s a few common examples:

  • The list cannot be used for commercial purposes.
  • Auto-dialers cannot be used for cell phones.
  • Calls to voters cannot be made outside of certain hours (typically 8am to 9pm).
  • Mass text messages cannot be sent unless voters specifically opt in.

Violation of these rules can lead to revocation of your voter file access as well as hefty fines, so please make sure you understand and comply with your state’s restrictions.

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