FINDING “UNLIKELY” VOTERS WHERE THEY MATTER MOST
Long before all the ballots are counted on November 4, the nation’s political focus will have already begun shifting to the 2016 election cycle – with particular attention paid to presidential primary contests in early-voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In both parties candidates will declare their intentions, frontrunners will be anointed and political fortunes will begin to rise and fall.
This long and winding road will eventually lead us to the 2016 national conventions – and the selection of a pair of major party nominees for the presidency.
Given their poll position on the primary calendar, voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will receive disproportionate face time with dozens of presidential aspirants. But they will also receive disproportionate analysis from political operatives and electoral scientists looking to ascertain what motivated them to choose certain candidates over others – and increasingly, “when.”
Early voting is all the rage in contemporary campaigning – and nowhere is early voting (and the micro-targeting electoral science accompanying this distinctly modern political phenomenon) more important than in early voting states.
“It used to be you just kind of let the electorate do what they were going to do if you were a campaign. We’d find out Election Day,” Iowa’s Ann Selzer recently said. “Well, now they’ve found out If we can get all of these early ballots out there, if we can get people to a poll early, we can recruit those people who don’t really care, but they’re going to vote for our candidate — and those votes are now there.”
Selzer is the president of the company responsible for conducting The Des Moines Register‘s “Iowa Poll.” She and several other Iowa political experts gathered recently for a discussion of the 2014 election cycle – in which early voting was a hot topic.
That’s understandable. Early voting in Iowa began on September 25 for the November 4 election – and given that the state is home to a competitive gubernatorial election and U.S. Senate race, both parties are making a major play for these votes. Democrats were tremendously successful at their early voting efforts in 2012, and this year Republicans are looking to match – or exceed – those gains.
“Campaigns are certainly getting more sophisticated in their use of the state voter file, in terms of finding likely voters,” University of Northern Iowa professor Chris Larimer said. “They’re also making campaigns a bit more personal because they know that a more personal touch – that can be done through direct mail, but it has to be done carefully – can also affect a campaign. So, I think they’re changing strategies and we know that early voting is going up all across the board.”
Indeed. According to CNN, the GOP is already reaping the reward of a $1 million investment in early voting infrastructure in Iowa.
“In just the last week, Republicans have requested absentee ballots at a faster rate than Democrats — more than doubling their count compared to just a 40 percent increase for Democrats in the last 10 days, according to numbers provided by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office,” the network reported. “Registered Republicans have also mailed in their early ballots at a faster pace than Democrats. And while both parties have gotten their voters to submit more ballots than in 2010 so far, early Republican votes have more than doubled from 2010 while Democrats have only posted a 36 percent bump.”
In fact Democrats have dispatched First Lady Michelle Obama to Iowa in the hopes of providing an early voting boost for their candidates.
“Campaigns love early voting,” Drake University professor Art Sanders said, although he argues its real benefit is offering operatives (and political scientists) a chance to see which methods are most effective in moving unlikely voters.
“It allows them to tailor strategies in much more sophisticated ways,” Sanders said. “It’s very effective from their perspective.”
For example, one method that’s reportedly been quite effective in Iowa is to promise early voters that they won’t receive any additional political mailings once their ballot has been cast! Talk about a powerful motivator to those who are fed up with the incessant pre-election bombardment of political literature.
Of course while Iowa’s 2014 elections are critical in terms of deciding which party will control the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans are investing heavily there because they know research on what motivates early voters in Iowa will be indispensable come 2016 – in the presidential primary elections and the general election in which Iowa is likely to be a swing state.
Lessons learned in this race will pay huge dividends down the road.