State Dems relying on Obama-style data machine for November edge

A key member of the Democrats’ 2011 legislative redistricting team is back in the state this election season to defend the map he helped build.

Tom Bonier, who was a primary consultant to the team that created the map ultimately chosen by the tie-breaking member of the commission is consulting with legislative Democrats on micro-targeting, the analytic strategy employed so successfully last year by President Obama.

As a consultant to the Democratic election team, Bonier is providing analytics in every district in the state to help Democratic candidates hone their messages and retain the advantages they hold in both houses.

“Analytics are all about being able to have targeted conversations with voters and being able to talk to voters about issues that they are most likely concerned with in order to focus those conversations,” said Bonier, who is from Massachusetts and now is based in Washington, D.C. “Races encompass a multitude of issues and you can’t have a conversation with every voter about every issue so this helps narrow the conversation.”

Obama used analytics and modeling to great effect in his 2012 re-election bid and the “data cave” as it was known has taken on almost a mythical status in the election post mortem.  The process works by contacting voters individually and creating models based on their support for candidates and issues.

The model can help predict the “persuadeability” of a given voter to identify voters who can be swayed to lean Democrat or flip their vote.

Bonier stresses that good modeling will not win an election, but will boost a campaign at the fringes.

“This isn’t a tool that wins elections by itself,” he said.  “Elections are won with superior messaging and superior field work.”

Still, Democratic campaign consultant Mike Muller said Democrats have been doing modeling for the past two election cycles but the addition of Bonier, who was part of that Obama effort, has brought it to a new level.

“I am confident in saying that this is the most significant modeling effort at the legislative level anywhere in the country,” Muller said.

Muller said the information is invaluable, particularly in competitive and swing districts where unaffiliated voters and ticket splitters can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“It allows us to narrowcast the electorate so we know who is truly in play,” he said. “It’s important to understand even if they are not traditional party voters, which way do they lean –   or who is movable to ticket split.”

Bonier’s work will likely be used nationwide this November as a result of a 50-state project conducted earlier this year in which the firm broke voters down into more than a dozen characteristics, gauging views on everything from climate change to guns and determining  whether they could be counted on to come to the polls in an off year.

As for his role on the victorious redistricting team that solidified a map that favors Democrats for the next decade, Bonier said he sees his new role in New Jersey politics as an extension of the old.

“Winning the map does not determine the outcome of the election,” he said.  “We created a map that is representative of the electorate.  Now we have to do our job and make our case.”

There seems to be no similar coordinated data campaign on the GOP side, at least at the state level, though Politico reported earlier this week that the Republican National Committee will be rolling out a data interface this fall.

"It’s not a political environment that’s particularly warm for incumbents, but it looks like Booker has little to be worried about as the campaign season draws to a close."
—Krista Jenkins, poll director and professor of political science, FDU.