Databases Give Parties Access to Monster Share of Voters

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Fundraisers know that targeted list segmentation can make or break a campaign, but most don't have databases of hundreds of millions of names to choose from like the Democratic and Republican national committees.


Though little public information is available about the RNC's voter database, known as Voter Vault, Democrats have released some details about how they turned Demzilla, the term for their database, from nothing into a political behemoth of 166 million registered voters in just two years.


In 2001, the DNC had only 70,000 e-mail addresses, 400,000 direct mail donors and no national voter file. Thanks to Demzilla, it has grown its roster of supporters to more than 1.2 million direct mail donors and 3 million e-mail addresses.


To help the DNC expand its database, Plus Three, a marketing and technology services firm, was hired in early 2001 after Terry McAuliffe was elected DNC chairman. Though a Plus Three executive could not share many details or speak on behalf of the DNC, he gave some insight into how his company helped tackle the huge undertaking.


"The data is an aggregation of publicly available information for the most part," said Juan Proaño, president and co-founder of Plus Three LP, New York.


It's not that the data didn't exist; it just wasn't accessible in a practical way for use in targeting efforts.


"The Web has provided the opportunity to bring all this data together in a relevant way," Proaño said.


What Plus Three did was build the Demzilla database platform as well as a Web site for the DNC, which both launched in February 2002. Once the database was built, the larger issue was how to leverage such a massive amount of information effectively for fundraising and political messaging.


"The 166 million name database that the DNC has is comparable to what the RNC has, so the question is how to use the data to create multi-level messaging," Proaño said. "How do they actually take this large, 166 million record database and drill it down to the point where they are talking to the 1,500 or the 10,000 or 15,000 individuals in a state that can actually move the election one way or another?"


Though no one from the Republican National Committee returned calls for comment, its database was probably built in a similar fashion. Citing Federal Election Commission data, the Center for Responsive Politics said the DNC has paid Plus Three $461,131 for media, technology and computer-related services.


Of course, geography is one classic direct marketing segmenting tool. Demzilla lets the DNC map concentrations of Democrats in geographical areas and target regions of political concern such as swing states.


Other tried-and-true segmentation methods include demographic, geographic and psychographic targeting. Political organizations can use this data differently than marketers.


"Modeling can be done using polling information to identify independents, persuadables or swing voters," Proaño said.


The modeling will match like voters together based on issues rather than transactions as in a consumer direct marketing database.


The data obviously help intensify the DNC's direct mail efforts, based on information released by the organization.


"In the first four months of 2004, the DNC sent out 35 million pieces of direct mail to prospective new donors -- that's more mail pieces dropped than the entire decade of the 1990s," McAuliffe said in a statement last month.


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