Rob's Ten Campaign Data Rules

Here are TEN rules that you should abide by when doing [political] campaign data work [Rob edition]:

  1. Collect the right data- The team members collecting data on behalf of a campaign are often volunteers, not data scientists. They need to be trained on how to collect data when speaking with voters. I've spent many campaigns speaking ad nauseam about the importance of asking the key question: "Can candidate x count on your vote" but even the answer to that question is academic if you do not have the ability to put that information to use— this is Applied Data Services after all.  Collecting the correct personal identification and contact information is the most valuable data a person can give you.

  2. Plan a winning voter coalition-  Data can provide insights into how your stakeholders i.e. potential voters, think about issues and if those views have any impact on a person's likelihood to vote and who they vote for. Collecting and analysing this information is a critical step in building a persuasive campaign narrative. [At the provincial and federal level, political parties will contract with a market research firm to help them develop a central platform and messages for all affiliated candidates to run on]

  3. Campaigns are meant to win and to win, you need votes- Don't lose the [random] forest through the [decision] trees. Putting aside my sad attempt at a machine learning dad joke, campaigns often get too far in the weeds on an issue or task and lose sight of the mission.  If you can't clearly articulate how something either grows your supporter coalition (gets you more votes) or prevents you from shrinking your supporter coalition (loses you votes), then its not worth the effort.

  4. Keep it simple stupid- A well known principle used in various disciplines, and extremely important in campaigns both in message development/delivery and in data sharing. The candidate should stay focused on doing what candidates do best, identifying votes and the managers and other key decision-makers time may be one of the most valuable resources the campaign has. No one else should be made to read through complicated spreadsheets or to see the beautiful code you spent hours making, instead, use simple visualization techniques, bottom-line numbers and clearly state the results of your analysis and any recommendations when providing updates to your team.

  5. Big campaigns win elections- In Matt's post, he advised that "clean, stored, secure and relevant data will always lose to the incumbent with a well-stocked address book." Matt is a wise man. Every aspect of the campaign is made easier and more likely to succeed with more people. Candidates who think they can lone wolf their way to victory are playing high-risk roulette with their election. Initially, candidates are their own best database from having spent their entire lives building relationships.  If they want to win, they can't be afraid to ask their network for support, be it for volunteering, a donation or their vote.

  6. Fancy dashboards may not win campaigns, but data collection tools certainly help- Your tools can be as sophisticated as a smartphone app or as simple as paper and a pen, but having a easily teachable method to collect the right data in a  consistent manner is key to having good, actionable information.

  7. Getting supporters out to vote is the entire point- GOTV, or Get Out The Vote is the all encompassing final act of any campaign upon which all roads have led to. You collect data throughout the campaign on who will vote for you/your candidate but crossing fingers and hoping they do is not a good strategy. 

  8. Positive impressions are not votes- Canadians are nice people [mostly]. I have had so many pleasant conversations with voters where I left confident, but not certain, that the person would not be voting for my candidate. I much rather be told quickly to 'go to hell.' Likewise,  I've heard many candidates tell me about their wonderful conversations and how they think the person will vote for them so they recorded them as a supporter. This is bad data.

  9. You're not the website developer, but you can help where help is needed- Matt is correct on staying to your lane and not stepping on the toes of the professionals who have a mandate (and experience) to do a particular job. Just because you have an opinion, doesn't mean you should give it. I am particularly bad at this. I will now contradict myself by adding that as fully integrated members of a team, working for a cause and a person you believe in, your help and perspective could be valuable. Especially from a data analysis mindset, you might see things that others miss. I wouldn't shy away from offering to help if you have the capacity and interest, instead of simply saying that's not my job.


  10. Data analysis is essential to our democracy- Without data analysis, not only would consumers not have the products and services they want but citizens and stakeholders could not get the policies from governments that they feel are necessary. Data collection for private and public sector use is a highly regulated process (see PIPEDA, Privacy Act, plus various provincial legislation), and while political campaigns have been largely exempted from these, transparency with voters about the information being collected and its purpose is paramount in maintaining trust and ensuring the democratic process is fair and functional.

Brigade Applied Data Services