Running in a Red District: Vote Goal and Voter Targeting

There are more Democrats running for office now than ever before. Many are the first Democrat to run in heavily Republican districts in years.

At the National Democratic Training Committee, we love hearing this. But, it’s important to remember that things may be slightly different for candidates who run a heavily Republican district. Later in this post, we’ll dive into adapting vote goal voter targeting to fit your district. Before that, we’d like to invite you to hear directly from candidates who have campaigned and succeeded in red districts. Use these firsthand accounts from State Reps Brianna Titone, Fentrice Driskell, and our panel of campaign experts to gain insight to maximize your success.

Vote Goal in a Red District

The most important number on any campaign is the vote goal — the number of votes that you need to win on Election Day.

When running in a typically red or uncontested district it might be more difficult than usual to calculate your vote goal. The data you have that is associated with your race may be unreliable or missing key pieces. If this is the case, then how do you calculate your vote goal?

How to Calculate Your Vote Goal

When calculating your vote goal it is best to look at past election results for the same office. With this, you want to look at three specific areas:

  • Overall turnout: how many voters cast a ballot in past elections
  • Party turnout: how many voters voted for Democrats in past elections
  • The Undervote: How many voters cast a ballot but chose not to vote in a particular race

But, if you are running in a traditionally Republican district, this data might not paint the whole picture in terms of how you should calculate your vote goal. When this is the case, you should look at other contested races in your district even if it isn’t the seat you’re running for.

Look for other races where Democrats are always on the ballot – like Governor or President. By looking at how many votes from your district go to a Democratic candidate in these races, you will get a sense of how many people are willing to vote for a Democrat.

If you’re running in a local election, you can look at other local races that were contested in the past, particularly if they share any precincts with your district.

If you’re running in a larger election, examine results from both statewide and local elections as both may lend similar results to your own election.

Keep in mind: if you are running against a typically unopposed Republican, turnout for your election may be higher if voters are energized by someone challenging the status quo. This can work for and against you.

The Undervote

When developing your idea on what to expect for voter turnout in your district, it’s important to go a step further and consider the “undervote. The undervote represents the number of voters who cast a ballot but chose none of the candidates in a particular race on that ballot.

For example, let’s imagine only one candidate is running for County Clerk — we’ll call him Lester. If there are 3,000 ballots cast, but only 2,400 are recorded for Lester, there were 600 people who chose to not to vote for County Clerk at all. That number — 600 — is the undervote.

Examining the undervote can provide insight into the choices that voters make. If there is a high undervote for a particular election, this may indicate that voters are dissatisfied with their options and are looking for another choice.

It’s a Guess

At the end of the day it is important to remember that a vote goal, at best, is a guess.  Countless factors can influence your race. There is no guarantee that your election will be similar to the ones before it.

That said, your vote goal is a key part of your campaign plan. With running a data driven campaign being one of the four core points of NDTC philosophy, you want to make sure that your guess is as informed as possible.

Your Persuasion Universe

In a typically Republican district, it can often be hard to determine which voters to target for your persuasion universe, or the specific group of voters that you want to convince to vote for you.

If your district typically does not see a Democratic candidate, many voters may vote Republican in the primary even though they’d prefer to vote for a Democrat in the general election.

If this is the case, then how do you build your persuasion universe?

How to Find Your Persuasion Universe

When building your persuasion universe in a typically Republican district, the first thing you should look for are low-frequency Democratic voters. These are voters who rarely vote, but when they do, it’s always for a Democrat. These voters are likely looking for someone like you to energize them.

But, limited data points don’t tell the whole story.  Chances are these voters do not represent the entirety of who you can include in your persuasion universe.  

If you can’t find enough Democrats, add high-frequency independent and swing voters to your persuasion universe. These are voters who always vote but either aren’t registered with a particular party (i.e., Independents) or don’t reliably vote for one party.

That said, don’t be afraid to cast a wide net.  

Ideally, for small districts, you’d knock on every door in the district, talking to voters who were home and leaving literature (with a hand-written note added) at homes where no one was available.

Of all the studies on voter contact methods reviewed by Analyst Institute, the activities with the largest effects are candidate canvasses. If you need help figuring out how to best attack canvassing, check out our course on Field Tactics. Get out there and knock on doors!

These are generally good tips when it comes to targeting. But, in a typically Republican district, you may still need to find more voters to add to your persuasion universe.

Adapt Your Targeting

When you’re struggling to fill your persuasion universe in the traditional ways, you have to adapt.

You know your district.

Talk to your known Democrats. Look at demographics.

Think about these questions:

  • What are common characteristics among the people who you know are Democrats?
  • Do most of them live in a similar location?
  • Are they all apart of the same organization?
  • What parallels can be drawn between them?

Essentially, you want to identify voters with similar characteristics to known Democrats and add them to your persuasion universe. There’s a good chance these voters may hold similar views.

Using Your Network

Using a validator can open your persuasion universe up to people who you previously could not include.

Reach out to your friends, especially if they are Republican.  If one Republican will support you, they can introduce you to others who may as well.

Validators are always helpful to build credibility amongst all voters. They can be particularly useful for finding voters in a typically Republican district.

Keep Fighting

Running in a red district is never easy. You have a lot of work ahead of you. But, this is exactly the work that needs to be done to build a strong, Democratic majority across the country.

By adapting your vote goals and building your persuasion universe in other ways, you can run a successful field plan.

Keep fighting the good fight! Sign up for our online trainings today — we’ve got your back.

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