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Political Data and Asking the “Right” Questions

Properly organized political data can provide campaigns with a wealth of information about their voters – from which voters they should target, to how best they can deliver their message to each.

While the potential for what can be learned is immense (and largely untapped), there is an even greater potential for drawing inaccurate conclusions from such data. The human brain is incredibly proficient at recognizing patterns – even when no such patterns exist. Those who wish to put political data to efficient use, then, must take great care not to manufacture insights about groups of voters that simply aren’t true.

Before campaigns can begin accumulating their own political data, they must make some very basic – yet very important – decisions.

“Which questions should we be asking our voters?”

There are lots of assumptions being made about which questions are the “right” ones to ask voters, and there are a number of factors that must be considered before making this choice. Different campaigns and advocacy groups may have very different budgets, timeframes, and overall goals, so each must decide for themselves which questions are the “right” ones to ask.

For example, a smaller campaign for local office may not have the same ability to act on micro-targeted issue tags that a well-funded US Senate campaign might. Similarly, that same US Senate campaign may not have nearly as much incentive to use unregistered voter data that, say, a County GOP running year-round, targeted registration drives might. It’s important for every campaign to take a look at their budget, timeframe, and realistic goals before deciding which data points will be most useful for them.

We’ll dive in with specific examples of which questions are “right” for your campaign in later posts, and first we’ll explore more quantitative data that doesn’t require any questions at all.

While identifying supporters and key issues can provide invaluable information to campaigns, there is plenty of useful data already available that most campaigns are simply not utilizing as well as they should.

For example, if you’re running a primary campaign, identifying which voters in your district have voted in primaries in the past will prove far more useful than identifying which voters feel strongly about gun control. Making efficient use of demographic and voter history data is essential, and finding tools that allow your campaign to identify which voters are most likely to show up to your primary should be your top priority.

Once you’re in a position to effectively use quantitative data, then you can begin to think about mixing in qualitative data to your strategic decision making process.

It is true that qualitative data, which relies on the human element to collect and interpret what all this information means, is less “scientific” than more quantitative data points, such as age, gender, party affiliation, and voter history.

Making conclusions based on this data can often lead to serious errors – especially when those conclusions are used as the foundation of other analyses and decisions.

Accurately combining quantitative and qualitative data is no easy task. To reason correctly about such information, campaigns must consider many complicated, abstract facts that are strongly related yet importantly distinct, without a single mix-up or conflation.

Voter Gravity services a network of clients across the country, at all levels of political office. The insights provided by this closed loop of useful data, combined with the careful statistical techniques employed by our team of analysts, make it possible for campaigns everywhere to make truly informed decisions about their data.

It’s very nice – and surprisingly easy – to pretend that correlation implies causation. Here at Voter Gravity, we’re putting in the hard work necessary to ensure that conservative grassroots efforts everywhere have the tools and techniques they need to collect and store valuable, accurate information about voters – and also to act on that information wisely.

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore some examples of the most common data interpretation mistakes being made by campaigns today, as well as discuss how these campaigns can use Voter Gravity to correct them. Stay tuned.