May 20, 2021

List Building Techniques: How to Ensure You Are Engaging the Right Audience

Voter Data Background: 

Voter lists have been used by campaigns since the early part of the 20th century for both targeting and to provide vital contact information to reach those voters. Methods for voter contact have evolved over the years from direct mail and canvassing only to telephone calls, linear TV, texting, digital ad targeting, OTT and many others using a voter file for targeting has always been fundamental.  Below are some of the key strategies we recommend when building your list.

Best practice methods to build your voter list from the ground up

Choose a voter file provider that is going to meet both your needs and your budget.  

Voter files can be sourced from County and State Boards of Election or the Secretary of State. Voter files are typically provided to qualified organizations and campaigns. They vary in cost depending on the state however most provide the same basic information. Every one of the files will include name, address and voter history. 

Beyond the basics, voter files will range wildly in terms of the other information they provide. Many include age, date of birth, gender, party identification, primary ballot selection and in a few cases include additional fields such as birthplace, registration method, telephone, emails and ethnicity.

The biggest challenge with state voter files is typically acquisition as it can take a long time and in some cases be prohibitively expensive but also these files are typically unprocessed databases. Secretary of State voter databases are often not run through basic hygiene processes including change of address using the postal services National Change of Address System (USPS NCOA) or matched against deceased databases. The other issue with state voter data directly from the state is the addresses are not CASS certified or standardized for postal mail which means your “low cost” voter file will have to go through an additional process that you will have to pay for on top of acquiring the file itself. Government data sources also typically do not include any of the additional contact, demographic, consumer, donor or other information modern campaigns rely upon for microtargeting.

Multiple organizations exist in the space including L2 that provide enhanced voter databases that are both easily accessed at a reasonable cost to any qualified user including campaigns, political consultants, academic voter file researchers, advocacy organizations doing grassroots voter targeting and even corporations doing advocacy work with the voter file.

Questions you will want to ask when speaking to your prospective voter data provider:

  1. What is your update frequency? 
  2. What kind of processing and hygiene do you do to ensure the quality of the file?
  3. What are the available demographic, consumer, donor or other attributes?
  4. How frequently are those attributes updated?
  5. What attributes come standard and are there different costs for different attributes?
  6. Are emails included or are they an additional cost? 
  7. Are those emails verified to ensure the greatest level of deliverability?
  8. How accessible are the data? 
  9. What platform(s) if any do you provide and which to work with the data?
  10. On what platforms outside of your companies are your data used now? And can they be used outside of your toolset?
  11. Does your platform offer early return/vote by mail data?

Each of these questions should yield an answer giving you the best possible understanding of what your getting, how it solves the problems of your campaign and exactly how much it is going to cost. 

How voter file data and list building complement each other

Some of the most valuable data your campaign will have access to are those data the candidate or organization already have in-house. These can be “transactional data” including donation information, supporters/volunteer data, survey data or simply a list of friends and likely supporters in the district. 

Up until a few years ago campaigns and organizations would finish a cycle and then start fresh with list generation for all elements of the campaign from fundraising to persuasion and turn out. The new standard is to maintain all of your organization’s interaction or transaction data, keep them clean by running them through basic hygiene processes by working with a partner, like L2, to remove people that have moved out of district or state and and update contact information including voter phones, voter emails and voter postal mail addresses and append other critical demographic information to help bolster your file. The other largest benefit of your organization’s existing data is to be able to match it to a current L2 voter file of the district or state and find more supporters that look like your existing supporters.  This could be as simple as matching your list to an L2 voter file and realizing that most of your supporters are independent, women over 65 years old that live in three ZIP Codes. This would then allow you to target other individuals in those ZIP Codes that match that demographic profile and reach out to them in a targeted way instead of starting from scratch and guessing where your likely support is going to come from.  

The bottom line is, do not simply get dump your data especially when it comes to donors and supporters where you have known interaction voter data points whether that's from a door knock, survey, exit poll or a contribution.  These data can be critical for your future success. 

How to ensure your list includes the right people for your message


Testing, is critical to determine which audience and messaging are going to work. Voter audience testing can be done through a focus group or panel or by simply selecting a random sample of data and reaching out to them via your chosen voter contact method. 

One of the best features of testing is it requires the organization to determine a goal, make choices of an audience or audiences and then create either separate lists or messaging on which to test. Many campaigns will make assumptions of who their likely audience is going to be and in some cases, the candidate or consultant will know the voters they need but close elections, hidden pockets of voters and potential voter supporters are critical. Testing in many cases might reveal a group of supporters you previously haven't thought of.

Use existing data.  As mentioned in the previous section on list building your existing voter, donor and other interaction data are incredibly valuable.  Knowing demographics and voter information on your existing supporters based on geography, vote history, demographics, donor history etc. you are able to learn a lot about your new microtargeted voter audience. That is always a great building block when making your selections. Existing data might also give you several options which to test when it comes to potential groups of supporters and audiences.

Dig into the data. Voter file analysis is only possible if you have access to a voter file along with a platform that lets you quickly run queries or counts. The ability to quickly make selections based on voter history and other demographics will allow campaigns to see voters that have turned out in previous elections and what that electorate might look like. In an extremely simple example a user could look at those voters that voted in at least the last two out of four general elections (G2/4+) and then look at all of the different demographics of that voter selection. That will give campaigns a starting point however there are other groups the campaign are also going to want to look at when generating this list including newly registered voters in the last year or since the last election.  In order to make an apples-to-apples comparison the campaign will want to line up election types whether that's a special, local, primary, presidential primary, general or runoff. The campaign will also want to make sure that if it's an odd year election you are looking at odd year election turnout data. It may seem like common sense however a lot of systems are built to provide quick queries/voter counts for even year general election so make sure you are digging into the data that you actually need.

How your voter list impacts your campaign down the road

Voter lists to a campaign are equivalent to the foundation of a house. 

Your voter file is absolutely critical and will be part of almost every other element and decision of the campaign.

Starting with fundraising through the final stretch of get out the vote (GOTV) your campaign’s voter file provides the campaign with the data needed for both targeting and voter contact. The campaign’s voter file can act as a voter mailing list, voter telephone list, voter canvassing list or walk book, voter email file, voter digital ad targeting, voter social media targeting, voter cable television targeting etc. All of the forms of outreach and voter contact I mentioned cost more than any voter file or data purchase you will make. However, every single one of those decisions should be driven by your campaign’s voter data. A quality voter database is critical to ensure you are building your campaign on a stable base.

Voter files are critical to both execute and build your campaign strategy. 

At the moment your want to run for office or your organization wants to have a big advocacy push realize you need to start building a strategy. As we know in the modern age of campaigning the best way forward is to be data driven and make informed decisions that include a combination of local knowledge and data. In order to do that you need a "source of truth" when it comes to exactly what the electorate of your district is made up of. In L2 voter file has done that for tens of thousands of campaigns allowing users to log into L2 VoterMapping and plan their strategy by seeing the data in an incredibly visual way.

Your voter list cannot simply be forgotten or left unchecked throughout the entire campaign. 

Ensuring that your voter list is kept up-to-date falls both onto the campaign/organization as well as your list provider. Data providers should be able to give you a timeline of likely updates, provide you with when an update is either coming or has recently happened and make sure that the updates are timed with the cycle to happen immediately after critical elections, a surge in voter registration or if the file is simply not been updated in a while. Like the foundation of a house as it ages it starts to crack and disrupts other parts of the house, as your list ages other parts of the organization will notice it is the targeting may not be as effective. Ensure that you are keeping up with the very latest versions of your database, you are updating it in your voter CRM and you are utilizing any available early return data.

Early return data or vote by mail data has always been an element in political campaigning however it played an enormous role in the 2020 cycle due to the global pandemic. Over 41 states had some form of early voting and many states expanded their eligibility to vote early. These data are critical to give the organization a clear picture on who has shown up, their demographic profile and to see if your voter contact is working and to remove from future voter contact and save the campaign money but also time and human resources.  These are updates that can potentially be multiple times a day to once a week but having that information in any form is helpful to the organization to know who has requested a ballot, received their ballot and returned to their ballot.

L2 is America’s leading non-partisan voter file provider and have provided the most trusted voter data to the largest political campaigns and advocacy organizations in America.  Contact Us HERE


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