Every couple of years, the local leadership of the Democratic Party decide they need to build their clubs. It’s a funny process of people getting together, complaining about who’s not doing what and who is and then arguing over the strategy of building the club.
As I wrote before, political parties don’t serve the same function they did in the past. The local apparatus should be no different, except they are a whole other beast.
There are inherently two types of clubs: active and inactive. We have inactive clubs for many reasons, and there’s little reason to get into it. Building a club takes work and starts with understanding your purpose and knowing your audience.
To know your audience, you’ll need to figure out the political leanings of your district. Turnout varies from year to year and by the office. To get the best picture leaders need to look at all races within their club’s boundaries and understand the variance of turnout between them.
Races for governor, US Senate, and other statewide offices will cover all of the club’s district. But state legislative offices often share these districts and cross parts of multiple wards, townships, parishes and other types of political subdivisions. You may have to piece together the puzzle to understand your district.
By understanding turnout for the different offices you will hopefully learn patterns and get an idea for how your audience is spread out across the geographic area. If you have access to a party database, you will be able to manage all of this from the dashboard for easy access.
Voter Database Basics
Who votes is a public record, accessible to any person or organization for political purposes. A lot of people don’t realize that anyone can go to the local board of elections and request a copy of that record. Political parties regularly collect this information and have developed technology to add other information in what is called a voter file.
The voter record starts with the name and address of the voter and then you can request which elections they voted. Lists are purchased adding phone numbers. They also collect information about gender, race, religion and other relevant demographic information. This information is the bulk of the voter database.
The information you add to the file will be the most crucial part of the database.
From the party database, you may have access to party scores and a preference for your party. The party preference is usually the easiest way to identify your audience. By calling and talking to voters, we collect their feedback. The more contacts there are, we create a better picture of the voter. Simultaneously, the higher office that collects the information, the greater weight is given to that data.
The preference will use five identifiers of strong, leaning and independent voters for party preference. However, if they are a new voter, you will likely see unidentified for the preference of some voters. That will change after a couple of contacts. Keep in mind that campaigns are using the database simultaneously and changing information all the time.
The dashboard at the data director level is the controlling mechanism for permission to the functionality of the database for all other users. The fact is that candidates and committeepeople usually don’t know the full spectrum of permissions and therefore don’t know what permissions to request.
At the same time, we have to recognize some people can’t use a computer. Technology and politics are very similar. Neither is a place for amateurs, and you can only move past being an amateur by poking around.
My favorite way of poking around in politics is through mapping and cross-tabs. The party database can do both. But before we get into data analysis, we have to develop a list.
Breaking down the database into manageable chunks of cohorts is a great way to be strategic and build a club. There is a lot of talk in the 2020 cycle about the importance of Black women to the Democratic Party’s, and I have no doubt this is true.
But how do we build the list for outreach? If we query every registered Black female, we will have too much data. Not all of these women are actual voters. So let’s go back to the purpose of our organization: we want die-hards and activists who will volunteer and engage in the political process. We want them to join the club and participate in some form.
At this point, we aren’t asking anyone to support a candidate because we want people to support a dialogue of ideas for our cause, not the candidate. To that end, we want regular voters to speak with first. They appear to have the highest interest in politics.
If we search the file for African-American women, we can save this search as a list and use it to create other lists. Let’s say our search yielded 1,000 Black females registered to vote in our area. We can then search this new list for women who have voted in the last four elections. Of those women, 120 voted in each of the previous four elections. If we have the right permissions, we should be able to see activist codes such as volunteering for canvassing or phone banking. Some may attend events. Others may only want yard signs.
We now have a good start for our outreach. You can break the 120 women into smaller components to speak with each group about their specific activity or leave it alone. Being able to scale your list to your ability and time is very important.
Remember what I mentioned above. Many people don’t know their voting status is public. We don’t know how they voted, but what elections they voted in are public records. Someone will question how you came by information about them. Be clear and upfront that their voting history is public record.
But to the point, these differing levels of activism are good indicators of the likelihood a person will be interested in the club. Because there are many reasons people go beyond voting and choose activism we might want to look at irregular voters, that is voters who turn out inconsistently and see if any of them have ever participated.
We can go back to our full list and query for women who have voted in any three of the last four elections, an eight-year history. We can also break this list down the same way we did with regular voters and rank their activism.
Using your list
You can assign the list to a phone bank or cut it into turf, a neighborhood to walk, for canvassing. If you are building your club, then I would highly suggest walking house to house to talk to the women on your list. Personal outreach has a higher rate of success compared to phone calls. They may have questions for you and will feel more comfortable speaking person-to-person.
I would suggest having a pamphlet inviting them to you meeting and including contact information when you walk. Every house should get a pamphlet whether you talk to them or not.
You will need a strategy to build a connection with your audience. That may include email, social media, and a website. Collecting email addresses and social media handles is a great way to develop your voter list and your membership. Some people will not want to go to meetings but may join the club. They may only come to one meeting a year, that is fine.
Your membership will likely be a mix of virtual and active people. For people involved in politics, we all get involved for different reasons and with varying concerns. Your job is to be able to meet each person’s interest.
My take on clubs is that they serve a great community purpose. But they are only limited to what their leadership wants. Successful clubs will attract candidate attention, sponsor events, and have a presence in the broader community. It is up to leadership to determine how they want that relationship to work.
This is meant to be an introduction to the voter file with some suggestions about organizing your club. You’re welcome to contact me and ask for specific guidance. I will expand on some of these issues in later posts.