Because modern elections, like many 21st century business transactions, now may be won in part by the computer geeks with the biggest servers, the Republican National Committee says it likes its chances in Florida.
The RNC’s operations already are in major position in Florida, which, as always, and particularly this year, is the state both parties see as a marquee battleground. The RNC field operations in Florida now boast 67 staff members and 1,068 trained volunteers the RNC calls “fellows,” organizing ground operations for this year’s elections.
But their key weapon, the one the RNC believes sets the Republican effort apart, starts in those servers, with billions of bits of data on Florida voters, acquired from consumer “Big Data” companies, voting records, and sometimes seemingly irrelevant public opinion surveys.
The thinking is, with information about someone’s consumer and social preferences, what children’s clothes they buy, what magazines they subscribe to, what whiskey they prefer, what they think about banks or baseball or beaches, that creates statistical models that geeks can use to both predict and find the key factors to influence whether and how that person is likely to vote. With internet reading and shopping – even just internet perusing and window shopping – such data now floods into Big Data servers.
“We’ve been working on this since 2014 and making improvements on it all the time,” said Brian Parnitzke, the RNC’s national turnout and targeting director. He, with other RNC staff members, laid out some of the RNC’s operation in a chat in Orlando with FloridaPolitics.
This is nothing new. Businesses have been fine-tuning marketing for decades based on Big Data insights and assumptions, and it’s now omni-present in any big-time marketing effort. Obama For America introduced it to politics in a big way in President Barack Obama‘s two elections. And the RNC was caught off guard and marveled at the sophistication of the Obama operations, staff members said.
So, after 2012 the Republicans set out to emulate it, and now claim their Big Data operations surpasses what Obama had, or anything the Democratic National Party could possibly have. Obama kept his proprietary, not sharing it with the DNC, leaving the national Democrats to have to start over, according to the Republicans.
The Republicans say they have invested $200 million in their Big Data operation and the efforts to use the voter targeting assessments in field operations.
They claim to have 3,100 points of data on every Florida voter, each point a chance to cross-compare values and habits, to come up with probabilities on actions, based on statistical models.
“We have this database. I believe it is the most powerful database in politics in the world,” Parnitzke said.
And what about the potential of a “blue wave?”
“It’s all baked in,” Parnitzke said.
Their counterparts at the Democratic National Committee did not reply to FloridaPolitics’ inquiry for comment or response to the RNC’s claims or on how the DNC operations might compare.
With the data, the RNC and the Republican Party of Florida are geographically carving out populations of targeted adults whom the data say are likely reachable swing voters. And, equally importantly, the data suggest on which issues they swing. That’s where the trained “fellows” come in. They’ll be calling, knowing a potentially-disturbing amount about the lifestyles and values of the individual voters.
With almost all recent big elections in Florida having been decided by a point or two, it doesn’t take much mobilization to change outcomes, though the Republicans are quick to point out the old saw: “This is just a tool; candidates and campaigns matter.”
Russell Peck, the RNC’s southeast regional political director, said that the RNC is sharing its Big Data and its findings on Florida voters, for free, with the Republican Party of Florida and with any Republican campaigns, at all levels.
Two issues have emerged from the data in the Florida U.S. Senate race, and both are seen showing up as early themes of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign. First, that 27 percent of swing voters don’t really have an opinion about Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. And second, that 54 percent are upset with members of Congress they see as obstructionist to government.
“Make Washington Work,” has become Scott’s early campaign theme, and he’s going after Nelson, seeking to paint him as obstructionist.
“People want to see government do something,” Peck said.