National field update

[crossposted at dailykos and mydd.]
There have been a lot of main stream media stories over the past few weeks about how great the RNC get out the vote operation is doing, including one on Sunday in the SF Chron about the Schwarzenegger operation. These stories usually include an obligatory paragraph about how disorganized the Democratic side is by comparison.
You’ll be shocked to know that your sources in the corporate media may not be telling you the entire truth here – although in this case it really isn’t their fault. The Voter Activation Network (VAN) is a web based voter contact database and tracking system that a number of state Democratic parties and other organizations are using to keep track of their field and direct mail operations. (Full disclosure: I’m the project director of California VoterConnect, and as of a few months ago we are a customer of theirs.)
The folks running this system have a unique perspective on how we’re doing. On the flip is a letter from one of the principals of this organization (published here with his express permission) with some perhaps surprising and potentially great news…

Dan –
We sit on a unique perch to view Democratic organizing for the upcoming election.  There are 24 state parties that use the VAN, making it available to candidates up and down the ballot.  While it is often the case that a Party will hire us because of a high profile U.S. Senate or Governor’s race, it is the state legislators who use the VAN year in and year out.  One of the major advantages of a shared system like this, alluded to in the KC news story about Montana & Missouri, is that it puts these high tech tools in the hands of local activists and legislative candidates.
Beyond those 24 state parties, we host statewide voter files in seven additional states for clients as diverse as the Massachusetts Teachers Association and America Votes, as well as a few almost random Congressional Districts.  One way or another, we are involved in most of the contested U.S. Senate & Congressional races and while we miss the State Party operation in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, we see most of the organizing Democrats do.
While every national, macro-political story I’ve read in the last three months says that Republicans have the better GOTV operation, we’re just not convinced that’s true.  We are seeing an amazing amount of activity on our sites.  Right now, for instance, we are running about 1 million page hits a day.  There’s no fun reading on the VAN – every one of those page hits are organizers and campaign analysts working to identify likely Democratic voters.  Fully half of those page hits are people using bar code scanners to enter IDs from door-to-door canvassing and phoning – IDs that are often available not just to the specific campaign that collected the data but, because of the shared nature of the VAN, are available to down- and up-ticket candidates as well.
One comparison in particular struck me today.  Ken Mehlman is bragging in the Washington Times that their volunteers have contacted 7 million voters since Labor Day.  Since Labor Day, our clients have contacted 8.1 million voters, excluding paid IDs from professional phone banks.  Just to be absolutely clear, that means that 8.1 million voters have answered at least one survey question asked by Democratic canvassers since Labor Day.  And remember, that does not include the state Party operations in PA, OH, or VA. [or CA – yet. -da]
We looked at a couple additional data points.  If we look at just the state Party clients we have, in the first two weeks of October, they canvassed 4.5 million individuals (again, a canvass requires an answer to at least one survey question, not just an attempted contact), and collected 5.8 million IDs.  We can measure significant increases in activity since then, which suggests a pretty robust GOTV operation among Democrats.  While client confidentiality precludes me from giving you state-by-state numbers, I assure you some of them are incredibly impressive.  And without getting too specific, this native Minnesotan is particularly proud!

Finally, there is always a lot of attention to Republican micro-targeting.  While anyone will stipulate that they are ahead of us in this important area, most of our clients in key races have access to more sophisticated targeting models than they ever have before.  The DNC is providing scores to some parties, and groups like EMILY’s List have taken the lead in making scores and “lifestyle clusters” available in other key races; in some cases Democrats have access to both sets of data.  No question that our targeting data needs to be refined better, that the models need to be evaluated after the election, and that we need to continue figuring out how to use it effectively.  But this notion that they have it and we don’t simply is not true.

I’m no Pollyana; I know the Republicans have important advantages.  They have more money, better data, and a tested national strategy for GOTV.  But Democrats have important strengths as well, including broadly shared access to millions of pieces of data about individual voters and the ability with the VAN to put that information into the hands of many thousands of volunteers and activists.  Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn’t believe everything I read in the paper!
Jim St. George
Voter Activation Network
54 Regent Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

I have nothing to add except this: good news or bad news, now is the time to fight hard. Push yourselves. Two weeks to go in this cycle but this is just the beginning of the marathon. People are counting on us. Good hunting!