Republican National Committee to build platform to share voter data

Chris Moody
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (Reuters)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (Reuters)

In an effort to sharpen its digital arsenal, the Republican Party is building a platform with outside groups that will give GOP vendors, campaigns and committees access to its massive warehouse of voter data, Yahoo News has learned.

The ambitious plan from the Republican National Committee to make the GOP more competitive in future elections—spurred by Mitt Romney’s bruising loss and the data-mining techniques that helped Democrats gain its technological edge—will provide select groups with access to terabytes of data with which to build apps and software to better mobilize individual voters and analyze political behavior.

The RNC’s plan, acquired by Yahoo News, will provide Republican organizations with "direct access to data through APIs” to groups that "are building or offering apps in the GOP campaign marketplace." (An API, or application programming interface, is a way for a company to allow others to access its internal data.)

In effect, the RNC hopes that by doing what Apple does with its mobile operating system, developers will help build the equivalent of an internal GOP app store.

"The goal is to foster more innovation and creativity on the GOP side as well as help generate better data for everyone," the RNC action plan reads. "We want to lead by example—we want every campaign, GOP group, committee to make data a priority."

The idea to create a shareable central data system grew from a set of recommendations provided by a working group of veteran Republican strategists who have spent the months since the November election on an audit of RNC's efforts in 2012.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus plans to release details of the report—what the RNC calls "The Growth & Opportunity Project"—next week in Washington, D.C. The New York Times reported this week that the RNC is taking major steps to integrate data into all of its departments, with plans to hire a new chief technology officer to oversee that process.

During the presidential election last year, Democrats invested heavily in data-mining techniques. President Barack Obama's campaign built its own data platform, which allowed it to pinpoint with amazing precision the voters needed to win the national election.

Republicans, however, had less luck putting their data into effective action. The Romney campaign, for instance, suffered a severe digital meltdown on Election Day with its get-out-the-vote app called Orca, built to mobilize voters in areas with low turnout. The app failed to function properly, which effectively left thousands of campaign volunteers across the country without the ability to share local data with the campaign.

The new data-sharing project is part of a larger effort to better use the party's information and, hopefully for Republicans, avoid similar catastrophes in the future.

Below is the full RNC point-by-point action plan, provided to Yahoo News:

  • Throughout this process both the committee and the chairman have heard a lot about the RNC’s “digital” efforts. Much of it centered around quality of data, how to integrate new sources of data like social media data, and access to data.
  • Over more than 8 years on the campaign trail, the Obama campaign built a structure and process far superior to what we and the Romney campaign were able to put together the last 6 months of the election.
  • Currently the RNC has its own data warehouse with billions of pieces of voter data that are a part of the national voter file.
  • Data Trust makes investments in data and coordinates sharing of data between third parties which, through list exchanges, adds additional data to the RNC’s data warehouse.
  • Campaigns, state parties and sister committees can work with GOP Data Center and other RNC tools to collect data which then goes back into GOP Data Center. Data Center gets its information from the Warehouse.
  • Neighborhood captains collect data and work with GOP Data Center.
  • Analytics flows from the Data Warehouse.
  • Changing the way in which we handle data won’t happen overnight but clearly the party needs to deal with Data and Technology in a much bigger way.
  • The RNC will continue to invest in and integrate data but we also want to help lead the way for campaigns, analysts and vendors to have more and better access the data.
  • We want to lead by example—we want every campaign, GOP group, committee to make data a priority.
  • This includes an open data platform that will offer direct access to data through APIs to GOP vendors, campaigns, and party organizations who are building or offering apps in the GOP campaign marketplace.
  • Think of Apple and the App store.
  • The RNC is already testing different technologies, and behind the new Chief Technology Officer, the RNC is going to be a leader in the effort to build a platform so others on the GOP team can build the apps and get more access to more data.
  • The goal is to foster more innovation and creativity on the GOP side as well as help generate better data for everyone.
  • The chairman is 100% committed to making this happen, is currently working on how to get it done with a number of people and we’ll keep everyone updated as we go along.