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Campaign Data 101: Using Data in your Campaign for Field, Messaging, & Policy (Part 2 of 4)

Welcome back to Campaign Data 101, where we break down the what, how, and why of using data to run an innovative and efficient campaign. Last week, we covered How to think about Data if you’re not a “Data Person” in part 1 of our blog series. This week, we’ll dive deeper into How to use Data in your campaign.

Missed our previous Campaign Data 101 articles?

Keep your eyes peeled for parts 3 & 4:

If you’re ready, let’s dive back in!



How to use Data in your Campaign for the Field, Messaging, & Policy

Light beige map with straight red lines demarcating Minnesota's Senate District 14 with clusters of blue circles indicating which homes are likely to put up yard signs for Putnam's campaign
Our team visualized this analysis for Aric Putnam's campaign for MN SD 14. The goal was to provide a map of all supporters so we could identify where to call people about putting yard signs outside of their homes.

Now that we understand why data is important, how data is used, and what data is available, we can dig into examples of data projects that will help you save resources, reach more voters, and run a more effective campaign.

In part 2 of our Campaign Data 101 blog series, we’ll be discussing what kinds of data-driven projects you can work on in the field, messaging, and policy buckets of campaign activity. Here, we will share some projects that you can use in your campaign to better understand your district, enhance voter engagement, and effectively communicate your policy. There are dozens of more examples of projects that you could utilize in your campaign, but in our experience, these are some of the most common and accessible ideas.

How to Use Data in the Field

Field is the ground game that a campaign runs to register, reach, and persuade voters. A campaign’s field operation includes door-knocking, phone banking, events, and more.

Field is the ground game that a campaign runs to register, reach, and persuade voters

Here are the five projects we recommend for growing a field operation: calculating a win number, optimizing yard sign placement, targeting voter lists, identifying voter registration hotspots, and segmenting contact lists based on additional data from the Census, FEC, historical election results, and more.

  1. Calculate a win number under different turnout scenarios using historical election data and updated voting age population estimates. Check out Bluebonnet Data Co-Founder Ben Herndon-Miller’s post to see how you can add nuance to calculating win numbers in unique elections.

  2. Target yard sign placement by mapping out which of your supporters live along busy roadways.

  3. Build Targeted Voter Lists using data from the secretary of state on absentee ballot requests or purged voters to establish voter lists for GOTV efforts.

  4. Identify areas ripe for voter registration drives by comparing Voter File/VAN data on registered voters to Voting Age Population Estimates from the Census. You can supplement these efforts with resources like to mobilize volunteers to do door-to-door registrations in their local communities.

Light blue map of random American neighborhood including green markers for homes that are likely to vote, restaurant, library, park, church, and other building icons
We use as one of the many software tools to provide our candidates with campaign insights.

5. Use Census data, finance data, or past election data to help segment lists. VAN may or may not have all the data you need to build lists confidently, so it’s important to complement your voter targeting with additional data. Here are some examples:

  • Census data gives you an idea of who lives in your district. If you think your message will resonate well with younger people, Census data can help you locate those individuals right down to the neighborhood level.

  • Finance data can indicate political leaning and potential primary participation. Ask your Bluebonnet team to search for primary voters that might support your campaign by looking at donations to presidential primary candidates with similar platforms. See our Case Study of Wisconsin 5th Congressional District for a helpful example of financial data in action.

  • Historical election data helps you set goals and expectations. Looking at how many votes were cast for different candidates in different precincts of your district for the past three elections can give you a good idea of where more votes might come from and in which direction the precincts are trending.

A red, green, blue bar graph depicting the number of votes received by Democratic Candidate in Precinct 69B from 2014 to 2018. Red represents top of ticket (US Senate, President). Green represents US House, and Blue represents County Commission. All three categories received steady increases in votes cast for the Democratic Candidate each election year. For Top of Ticket, votes increased from 15.93% in 2014 to 23.64% in 2018. For the US House, votes increased from 17.73% in 2014 to 19.93% in 2018. For County Commission, votes increased from 16.83% in 2014 to 19.07% in 2018.
Bluebonnet Fellows performed this analysis for Zach Brown for Gallatin (MT) County Commissioner on how Democratic turnout has increased in their area over the past few elections
  • Analyze voter contact data (phone, social media, etc.) to understand how and why your contact efforts succeed. For example, your call attempts might be far more likely to go through during certain days of the week or certain times of the day.

  • Texting A/B tests help clarify messaging that resonate with your supporters. If there are multiple messages you want to try, send them to different, randomly selected audiences and collect response data. Your bluebonnet team can help you determine if one message is more effective than the others.

  • Identify priority contacts using secretary of state data. This can include voters who have requested an absentee ballot form and voters who purged from the voter rolls. In both cases, reaching out to voters and reminding them to take action can have a significant impact.

How to use Data for Policy & Messaging

Messaging refers to the tactics you use to reach voters, communicate your vision, maintain contact throughout the campaign, and drive turnout on election day. This includes the content on your website, flyers, emails, texts, and social media channels.

Policy is the platform that you run on and how big-picture issues like healthcare, civil rights, education, and infrastructure apply to the people in your district. These areas of campaign activity go hand in hand: you need effective messaging to communicate your policy and good policy is built by listening to constituents and adapting the platform to suit the needs of the population.

Messaging is how you communicate your vision & maintain a relationship with your voters. Policy is what your voters care about.

Here are the projects we recommend for using data to inform your policy and messaging: Salient Issues for Voters, Sentiment Analysis, Curated Audience Lists, and Data-driven Policy & Communications.

  1. Utilize public data sets like professional directories to understand which issues are most salient for your voters. Create direct messaging on your stances around education, healthcare, etc., to people working in those fields that may be supportive.

  2. Utilize word clouds and sentiment analysis to better understand how voters respond to different messaging in texting campaigns or in the replies to your social posts.

  3. Curate audience lists for town halls and policy releases by utilizing web scraping to create custom lists of education, healthcare, or small business professionals. Use these lists to tailor events or messaging on particular issues to the people who are the most invested in those issues.

  4. Craft data-driven policy and communications using public data sources like the Census, ACS, and state/city open data portals to find data on access to public services, childcare availability, and business trends. Factor this data into crafting your platform and use data visualization to effectively communicate the issue your policy seeks to address.

Color coded map of Boston showing the number of early education and child care seats per child from ages 0-5 years old. Orange (lightest color) represents under 1 seat per child, mauve (medium tone color) represents 1-2 seats per child, and purple (darkest color) represents over 2 seats per child.
Our fellows visualized a map accompanying Michelle Wu's campaign for Boston mayor. This map accompanied her early childcare plan to show where in Boston there isn't enough childcare to meet the need of the 0-5 population

Feeling like you’re understanding how to use data in shaping your policy and getting your campaign out there? In part three of our Campaign Data 101 series, we’ll be discussing how to use data in your campaign in finance and internal operations.

If you like what you’ve read and want to learn more, you can reach us at Or, want smart, passionate, young folx to help with your data now? Bring on a Bluebonnet team!


About the Author

Becca Blais is the Executive Director of Bluebonnet Data. As Bluebonnet's first employee and now Executive Director, Becca believes in the importance of investing in talent and data infrastructure at the most local level. Follow her on Twitter & Medium.



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