RNC Plays Catch-Up On Data, Ground Game

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After getting walloped by President Barack Obama's vaunted targeting and turnout operation in 2012, the Republican National Committee promised to make both a priority for the next election cycle. With more field staffers across the country and a newer and more sophisticated data operation, the RNC says it can now target voters with more customized messages when Republican volunteers call them and knock on their doors.

At a briefing last week, RNC Chief of Staff Mike Shields says the party has "concluded" that "building out data and tech and putting a robust ground game together is really what the RNC does best and what we need to be very, very good at. It's also something that we knew the other side had done better than us in recent years."

After the Obama campaign won widespread praise for a sophisticated data operation that helped to pinpoint the issues voters cared about and turn those voters out on Election Day, the RNC hired a dedicated staff to build a system that will collate information on Republican voters and help campaigns and state parties use what canvassers going to door-to-door and phone banks can learn.

At the briefing, embargoed until the group's spring meeting begins today in Memphis, the RNC showed off a "permanent ground game," according to Shields - which the RNC is calling "V365."

"The RNC data is sound, robust, and getting better," he told reporters. "How we share it needs to improve."

One of the ways the committee will share what they say is the "best most comprehensive Republican data file in history," containing 190 million active US voters, is a new dashboard or "control panel" - an interface for data on voters that gets input by the canvassers and is fed instantly into a centralized database. The new site, which state parties can access, and which Republican campaigns will also use in general elections this fall, surfaces that voter-file data for targeting individual voters and for broader analysis of what issues voters care about.

The dashboard is tied to a free app that Republican volunteers can download on their smartphones, which will bring up exact questions to ask potential voters. Canvassers can also input information - such as if the person has moved, if their names have changed, if they already have a yard sign up and for whom, among countless other examples. If the family is Spanish-speaking, or another language, canvassers can then make sure someone who speaks their language knocks on their door, as opposed to an unsuccessful phone call.

The RNC debuted the slick new web interface, which they believe will revolutionize get-out-the-vote efforts, testing it during Chris Christie's successful re-election in New Jersey and using it for the first time during the special election in Florida's 13th district in March, which they also won in a much tighter race.

"It was being utilized every single day," Shields said. "We were able to direct our resources using these voter scores."

Campaign technology firms have debuted, and campaigns have used similar technology before, but in its effort to catch up to Democratic campaigns, the RNC has now launched its own version on a broad scale. The smartphone app will have a map, and after a user logs in he or she will be able to access it, click on a house and a series of questions will pop up. Canvassers can input answers, hit send, and send the results to the RNC's database instantly. An RNC official noted that going door-to-door is the "best information you can get."

In the past, campaigns have used similar technology to map canvassing routes, call up door-knocking scripts, and record answers to scripted questions. In the 2004 election cycle, for instance, Democratic groups aided their canvassing efforts with Palm Pilots.

"We now have our field staff gathering information from the voters in real-time, sending it back to the RNC and the campaigns will benefit from it directly," Shields said, adding that "instead of buying something and hoping it works" as they have in the past they are building it and getting "feedback" from state parties in all 50 states who are trying it out right now.

"It is a different testing sort of mentality and culture at the Republican Party that we had not had before," he said.

Shields said that the app when used in FL-13 made it possible for them to "predict how many Republicans were going to show up and vote and they were 425 off out of 89,000 people who voted."

"This was us beating them at their own game and having the ability to do that," Shields added. "It wasn't just a test, this was live fire."

The RNC also stressed their year-round campaign structure now in place, with 193 field staff nationwide and more than 14,000 volunteer precinct leaders.

Chris McNulty, the RNC's political director, said they have also organized on 349 college campuses nationwide and instead of what they have done traditionally and gotten college students to come off campus to phone bank they are now going to have them organize on campus, recruiting 122 campus captains already.

The RNC's spring meeting in Memphis this week will include talking to state committee members and party chairs about their tech upgrade, as well as their staffing nationwide ahead of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Despite big gains in 2008 and 2012, Democrats say they are also improving on the technology front. Earlier this year the Democratic National Committee unveiled Project Ivy, which they say is the fourth iteration of the DNC's investment in technology and data over the last ten years. Michael Czin, DNC press secretary says "the goal" of that program is to take that "data and all the information from the Obama campaign" as well as the tools they used and make it "applicable and scalable to races of all sizes" and "campaigns up and down the ballot will have many of the same resources the Obama campaign pioneered in 2012."

As for the RNC, Czin they are "still trying to reverse engineer what we did two years ago. They are making big investments but they won't figure it out for a couple more years still."

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