The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee built an in-house polling and voter-file targeting operation this cycle as it sought a strategic edge over its Republican counterpart.
In an interview with Roll Call, Aaron Strauss, head of the expanded DCCC team, revealed the plan implemented early in the cycle to overcome the combined spending advantage of the National Republican Congressional Committee and GOP super PACs.
The cornerstone of the committee’s strategy involved assembling the kind of voter targeting operation usually undertaken by presidential campaigns and national party committees to better sift through the vast valley of Congressional districts in search of persuadable voters and winnable seats. The DCCC’s polling unit, meanwhile, allows the committee to conduct its own auto-dial surveys to better and more quickly gauge voter sentiment in House districts where such data is often sparse.
The idea is to have a deeper understanding of targeted voters in potential swing districts and the ability to take their temperature to see what messages are working and whether the needle is moving.
“We know our message wins, but it’s critical we focus in the right districts and reach the best voters,” DCCC Executive Director Robby Mook said in a statement. “To combat the surge in outside super PAC spending for Republicans, we have to be more efficient, faster and smarter with every one of our dollars.”
So the DCCC named Strauss, a former senior analyst at the Democratic polling firm the Mellman Group, as director of data and targeting. Reporting to Strauss is an eclectic group of five regional targeting directors, one for each part of the country in which the committee also has an assigned press secretary. Strauss said that the goals of his team are twofold.
“One is finding the districts that are the real good marginal districts, or the ones that are up-and-coming and about to be the marginal districts,” he said. “The second is figuring out the best people to contact for GOTV and persuasion. Layered on top of that is understanding the effect of TV advertisements and mail pieces on those folks.”
Strauss would not delve too deeply into the committee’s voter targeting techniques, but said they are similar to what direct-mail firms have done for years. That includes building a database matching prospective voters with consumer data to help figure out if a voter is persuadable.
That, Strauss said, mixed with the experience of the direct-mail vendors the committee works with, has led to more effective mail and field programs, and has allowed the DCCC to focus its spending on the voters it deems “moveable.”
Strauss also counts on the DCCC’s interactive voice response polling, which can offer accurate topline data, such as horse-race numbers and favorable ratings. Unlike Senate contests, public polling for House races is sporadic at best. So an IVR poll in the field for just one day can give the committee basic information it otherwise wouldn’t have.
All of the human work for the polls — writing, recording, sampling and analyzing — takes place inside DCCC headquarters and can be done for a fraction of the cost of an outsourced poll. The DCCC did not disclose the cost.
“Our IVRs really help us understand the landscape,” Strauss said, “and we’re able to launch them very quickly.”