Realignment is the buzz word for campaigns this cycle as voters’ traditional loyalties continue to shift.
In this environment, consultants are grappling with targeting Trump Democrats or Never Trump Republicans. Advocates, meanwhile, are trying to rally support to push legislation through a divided Congress where new coalitions are emerging around traditionally left or right issues.
Now, some data vendors are excited about the possibility of increased business as practitioners look for help formulating strategy in the realignment era.
“We’re going to be in an era of divided government for the foreseeable future — 51 percent isn’t going to get it done,” said Michael Meyers, president of the GOP data firm TargetPoint Consulting. “There’s been an increasing need and recognition of the need to craft the right messages and figure out the best targets for those messages.”
Meyers cited traditionally Democratic issues like criminal justice reform and early-childhood education as areas where data vendors could drill down to find cross-party coalitions of voters for clients — particularly those on the right.
“To be really effective you can’t really think about just Republican-Democratic, men-women, old-young, there’s a lot of different pockets within those communities,” said Meyers, who has preached that approach since his work on Bush-Cheney 2004.
What’s different now though is how dramatic the shift is among traditional voting groups such as college-educated white women and white men without a college degree. In the 1990s, the Wall Street Journal noted recently, they voted identically in a right-of-center pattern. But in 2018, the Journal’s Gerald F. Seib wrote in a column last month, “college-educated white women favored Democrats in House races by 33 percentage points, while white men without a college degree favored Republicans by 42 points.”
The optimism that data vendors like Meyers are feeling was picked up by last month’s C&E’s State of the Campaign Industry Survey. The survey of 408 professional political consultants conducted by PSB Research Jan. 10-Feb. 2, 2019, found a net 10 percent of those who reported working in voter data and analytics said they felt that the industry was generally headed in the right direction.
Moreover, GOP-leaning firms were 12 percent more likely to say the industry was headed in the right direction than Democratic firms. (The survey has an estimated margin of error of +/- 4.85 percent).
Ashlee Rich Stephenson, a pollster at GOP firm WPAi, noted that advocacy groups have a greater opportunity for cross-aisle targeting in this environment.
“The pathway to victory for a legislative cause or issue advocacy campaign isn’t always the same as that of a pure candidate campaign. If mobilizing partisan groups who may be traditionally on the other side of the aisle makes mathematical sense to secure a ‘win’ then it’s incumbent on an organization to figure out the ‘who’ and ‘how’ to achieve whatever equates to 50-plus-one for their cause,” she said.
“Sophisticated operations now use predicting analytics to determine who, at the individual level, makes up their winning coalition. If a campaign, whether candidate or issue, identifies a pool of voters from across the aisle that are open to their messaging then there’s value in targeting them until it’s been determined they are no longer up for grabs, which is done through ID work or a retraining of a model assuming they are in a persuasion universe.”
David Radloff, a co-founder and partner at the Democratic data firm Clarity Campaign Labs, said there likely isn’t going to be a stampede for this type of data from his client base, in part, because they’re now in power in the House.
If the satisfaction of gaining power in the base-election midterms in 2018 wasn’t enough, Democrats now have a hyper-competitive presidential primary looming that will also have clients on the left looking more toward their own voters than those across the aisle.
Still, Radloff predicted that once the primary is done, prospective clients may come around to targeting sections of the GOP base. “There are opportunities to speak to Trump supporters and traditional Republican voters,” he said. “There are multiple segments who may be either traditionally Republican, but may not be with Trump now, or who did vote for him but have a personal interest in responsiveness in healthcare or other issues that may come up.”
Radloff and his colleagues made the case in a piece in C&E in January for effectively targeting GOP voters with a healthcare message.
Going forward, demand for this type of data will differ on a state-by-state basis, Radloff predicted. He noted some groups or campaigns may want to target “a hunter interested in conservation and land rights in Montana.” Or landowners affected by the border wall in Texas or Arizona. “It really varies by issue that we’re talking about,” he said.