In presidential politics, the phrase "ground game" carries an almost mystical sense of portent. It is invoked by journalists, partisans, and campaign consultants as a vehicle for tipping close elections. But does it really matter?
Ground game—otherwise known as get out the vote (GOTV)—refers to any systematic operation designed to get a campaign's supporters into the voting booth. The primary tools are mailers, phone banks, and door-to-door contact, along with transportation where needed. Once upon a time, these interventions were based on simple party registration and informal relationships (e.g., the precinct captain knew you because he worked with your brother-in-law). Today, voter lists are a great deal more sophisticated, with campaigns harvesting data to create detailed files on voters from dozens of sources, from your Facebook profile to your magazine subscriptions. A good voter list today doesn't just know who you are, what your party registration is, and where you live—it knows what issues are important to you, who you've given money to, where you go to church, and who you're likely to be supporting.
Sophisticated campaigns know a great deal about their voters. In a recent interview, Ted Cruz's data guru, Chris Wilson, explained how the Cruz campaign approached the Iowa caucuses with a data-heavy focus on ground game. They constructed a model of 150,000 likely voters with enough data that they could be targeted almost individually. When a volunteer knocked on a door, a campaign app told them what issues the homeowner was likely to prioritize. As campaign manager Jeff Roe explained to National Review, volunteers were given caucus books for their neighborhood with "everybody's names who are voting for us in it, and then everybody's names of who they're choosing between, and what issue they care about, and how to communicate with them about it."
A few days before the caucuses, the campaign had identified 19,186 voters certain to support Cruz and could focus on making sure these people got to the caucus sites. Another 1,400 voters were tagged as onetime supporters who had drifted away. So the campaign targeted them in the waning days by having Cruz, his wife, or his father, Rafael, call them individually. On caucus night, the campaign knew personally almost half of the voters who caucused for Cruz. That's the power of the ground game.Read the rest of this op-ed HERE.
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