Calculating Your Vote Goal - National Democratic Training Committee

Wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly how many votes you need to win? While you’ll never figure out the exact number, it is possible to make a pretty good guess. This will be your campaign’s vote goal.

Here’s why your vote goal is important, and how to calculate it: 

What’s a Vote Goal, and Why Is It Important?

Your vote goal is the number of votes you’ll aim to receive on Election Day. Campaigns use this number to make strategic decisions over how best to use their limited time and resources.

You’re never going to be able to contact every voter or persuade everyone you do have the chance to engage. But by telling you how many overall votes you’ll need, your vote goal will provide the road map to identifying the types of voters who are most likely to get you to victory.

Campaigns can’t talk to every single voter. It’s just impossible. So it’s essential to target effectively.


How Do You Calculate Your Vote Goal?

The key to calculating your vote goal is to analyze past election results for the office you’re seeking. You can then use them to determine how many votes you’ll likely need to win.

There are a couple different ways to crunch the numbers based on how your campaign calculates projected turnout and a comfortable margin of victory. We tend to favor more conservative estimates that assume you’ll need more votes rather than less. It’s much better to overestimate and end up with a surplus of votes rather than underestimate and be caught unprepared come Election Day.

Look to the Past

Let’s imagine you’re running in 2022 for Bear County School Board. 

This means that your last three election results need to be from 2018, 2014, and 2010. Why? You need to choose the last three elections most similar to your own. Presidential election years often have higher turnouts, and these results may skew your information. So if your election is in an off-year or a non-presidential year, use the turnout numbers from other non-presidential years. 

There’s no perfect way to make a turnout projection. It’s an estimate you make using the best information available to you at the time.

Here are turnout results for the Bear County School Board. These results will influence our range of voter turnout projections. 

Take the highest turnout rate from 2018 (45%), 2014 (40%), and 2010 (38%). 

Calculating Your Vote Goal

The highest rate is 45%, from 2018. So use this as the high-end for projected voter turnout for 2022. This will be your conservative estimate, as a large turnout of 45% means you must earn more votes to win.

Now you need the other end of your projection range. You already have an overestimated projection, so now you should look for a more reasonable estimate, indicating lower voter turnout. To get that, you should average the turnout rates.

Average the turnout rates from 2018, 2014, and 2010. 

.45 + .40 + .38 = 1.23

1.23 ÷ 3 = .41

This gives us an estimate of 41% of voters actually turning out to vote. 

Do the Math

The next step is figuring out your comfortable margin of victory, which is how many votes you want to win by. The key word here is “comfortable.” Although you only need 50% + 1 to win, nobody wants to base potential victory on such a tight margin. We define a comfortable margin of victory as 52% – 55%. For our purposes and for this exercise, a comfortable margin of victory should be 55%.

Once you have your comfortable margin of victory, then it’s time to take a look at the number of registered voters. In our example, 7,317 people are currently registered to vote. You can apply your conservative or reasonable voter turnout projections to this number to estimate the number of people likely to come out on Election Day

Apply your highest projected turnout rate of 45% to this, and you’ll find that around 3,293 of them will come out to vote. Apply your reasonable turnout rate of 41% to this, and you’ll find that around 3,000 of them will come out to vote. So, you expect turnout to be somewhere between 3,000 and 3,293 voters.

To be safe, you should aim to work with that higher turnout of 3,293 voters. After all, you have nothing to lose if you estimate a turnout that ends up being higher than the actual amount of voters that come out to vote. So, with 3,293 voters coming to the polls, your goal is to have 55% of those votes cast in your favor. After crunching these numbers, you’ll find that you can expect to target 1,811 voters.

7,317 x .45 = 3,293 projected voters

3,292 x .55 = 1,811 voters needed to win

Your vote goal is 1,811 voters.


Calculating Your Vote Goal

How Can You Use Your Vote Goal? 

Once you have your vote goal, use it to make strategic decisions. To get a true sense of the challenges facing your run, it’s necessary to calculate your voter deficit. This is the difference between your vote goal and the number of votes you can count on without having to necessarily work for them. 

How do you know which voters you can rely on to show up for you on election day? By looking through past election data, you can reliably pinpoint high-frequency base voters, which are the people who consistently vote for your party and have turned out for the past four election cycles. These folks consistently vote Democrat, and just need to be reminded that an election is coming up. Contrast them with swing and low-frequency voters, who tend to switch party affiliation and vote less consistently.  

You can find and track this data using voter contact software like VoteBuilder. Check out NDTC’s course, “VoteBuilder 101,” for your guide to its basic features, and how VoteBuilder can help your campaign.

We can subtract the number of high frequency base voters from our vote goal to arrive at our voter deficit. This is the number of less frequent, less reliably-Democratic voters. These voters will become the primary target of your persuasion efforts. 

To learn more about your persuasion universe and the different types of voters your campaign should be prioritizing, check out NDTC’s course, “Targeting Voters.”

Calculate Your Vote Goal Today!

To learn more about voter persuasion, different types of voters, and mistakes to avoid when calculating your vote goal, check out NDTC’s course, “Calculating Your Vote Goal.” You’ll learn more about projecting the amount of votes you need to win, as well as the persuasion universe you’ll target throughout your campaign.

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