While fundraising and field operations have revamped during the pandemic, opposition research has remained relatively unchanged.
As an oppo researcher, I already got the majority of my information online. Yes, records requests have been slower because government offices and agencies across the county are either temporarily closed or the employees are working remotely.
Still, most government agencies in larger states allow you the opportunity to submit your request online, which means that campaigns and groups don’t have to pause their research programs.
Now, they might have to recalibrate their expectations in terms of timing. For instance, a lot of public records in smaller towns and cities through the country don’t have websites or the ability to submit request online.
But an experienced researcher can track down the appropriate official’s email and submit a public records request directly to her or him. Again, this may take longer to fill, but it’s still possible to get it done.
Another thing campaigns should note is that the pandemic has opened up new avenues for research, notably through virtual campaigning and fundraisers through digital conferencing platforms.
Despite companies’ increased security features, fundraisers and meetings through platforms like Zoom may not be as secure as candidates and the campaigns believe. So teams must be very careful — even open-to-the-public events can generate fodder for researchers.
The bottom line is that no matter how careful you are with disseminating the information to your supporters and campaign staff, the virtual meeting link will ultimately end up being public and the opposition will listen and even participate.
Now, there are ways that you can limit and manage on who is participating in your Zoom rallies and fundraisers, but that opens you up to charges that your candidate and campaigns are hiding something.
Other communication channels are also getting mined by researchers. Consider your campaign podcast. More and more candidates are beginning to use podcasts as a method communication to voters and the general public. The comms team might think this is a way to have a more frank conversation with prospective voters. But from an oppo researcher’s perspective, it’s another opportunity to track what candidates are saying and doing.
Most researchers will subscribe to their opposing campaigns’ podcasts to listen for anything that might be used for an effective attack. So candidates beware.
The current environment is opening up new ways for campaigns to communicate, but opposition researchers are still applying their traditional methods to gather information.
Erik Milman is president of Milman Research and Consulting, a Democratic research firm.