Database Creation and Social Media Campaign Help Venezuela's Democratic Unity Roundtable Go from No Seats to Majority in Two Election Cycles

In 2015, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable, MUD) mobilized a voter database that identified and targeted swing voters through social media. This effoMUDClipArtrt helped the MUD win its first-ever majority in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez first won the presidency in 1998. Only 11 years ago, opposition parties held no seats in the National Assembly after boycotting the 2005 legislative elections, and in the 2010 parliamentary elections, they made  gains against the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV) but still fell far short of a majority of legislative seats. Facing a stark resource disparity with the PSUV, which used its political majority to restrict opposition access to communications media and favor the ruling party, the MUD came up with a strategic plan for the 2015 election that would respond realistically to their capabilities, opportunities and needs.

The MUD’s strategic plan included the following steps:

  1. Creating a database of voters to identify soft PSUV supporters and swing voters;
  2. Organizing the voters in the database into specific categories for targeted messaging to more effectively use limited financial resources;
  3. Using social media campaigns for outreach and voter mobilization to respond to closing access to traditional media outlets such as newspapers, radio and television;
  4. Building greater consensus among the parties that make up the MUD regarding a multiparty communication platform to help design common strategies, information and messages within the framework of a unified communications strategy; and
  5. Training the mid-level and regional communications structures of the parties that make up the MUD in the use of new technologies for political communications.

In order to create the database, the MUD created 336 combinations of variables to identify citizens’ political preferences and to make a voter basefile. The basefile allowed them to extrapolate conclusions about political party leanings for large portions of the electorate from only a representative sample of voters. Pollsters then canvassed a representative sample of voters, asking them about their opinions of political parties, the government and the political climate. By using a probability theorem to determine the identity of the voter and modeling their data afterward, the MUD was able to calculate the likelihood of a voter being a PSUV supporter, a MUD supporter or a swing voter. After determining which direction voters leaned, the group separated the swing voters into two separate groups:

  • Group A was comprised of those who leaned MUD; and
  • Group B was comprised of voters who leaned PSUV

MUDSpectrumWith these classifications, MUD campaigners customized their outreach to swing voters of all leanings with a high degree of specificity. The creation of such a large, detailed database that was able to predict the political leanings of over 3.5 million voters required a heavy investment of time, intense planning and a structured roll-out. The MUD’s pre-planning and preparations — they set out to create this database after their losses in the 2010 legislative and 2012 presidential elections — meant that they were ready to roll out and use these powerful political communication tools at the appropriate time.

After completing the database, the MUD carried out its social media campaign on Facebook, which targeted voters with different messages taking into account their political leanings. The MUD targeted Group A voters with get-out-the-vote messages, while they targeted Group B with information about PSUV candidates designed to draw them across the aisle. Using their database, the campaign also identified 8.5 million voters on Facebook and targeted them with similarly specific messaging. Facebook metrics indicated that the targeted messages were reaching more people than previous campaigns had. By election day, the campaign reached 6.3 million voters and 2.9 million voters had interacted with the campaign’s Facebook content at least once.

On election day, the MUD gained a historic supermajority. Both the voter database and the social media campaign proved to be worth the effort of time and resources. By identifying swing voters through a database, the MUD was able to target them with appropriate messages and ensure that their campaign resonated. In the end, by implementing a realistic plan to address their resources, needs and capabilities in the wake of the 2010 elections, the MUD was able to develop a thorough database and use it to run a social media outreach campaign that ultimately played an important role in their resounding victory in the 2015 election.

As a key aspect of the MUD’s successful outcome, it is worth emphasizing the importance of the construction of broad consensus among the national communications teams that made up the coalition. The building of trust among these teams, the design of shared strategies, the equal conditions for transmitting information, the coordination in decision-making and the establishment of a real-time communications network, permitted the various stages of the electoral campaign to be strategically addressed and was a deciding factor in ensuring the MUD’s communications were received and accepted by a high number of voters.

A determining factor in the success of the coalition in the parliamentary elections of 2015 was a two-year effort prior to the elections to raise awareness, train and align national and regional structures of communication of all the parties that conform the MUD. This effort focused on promoting the strategic and efficient use of social networks as alternative means of communication in contexts that are politically closed and characterized by high levels of State-controlled media and censorship.

The consolidation of real-time messaging transmission structures had two levels:

  1. Internal: the national offices of each political party within the MUD gave daily tasks to their media and regional teams that were previously discussed and agreed upon by the MUD’s communications team.
  2. External: all MUD candidates and national leaders were included in a communications system that defined the weekly programming of publications and messages, which were then actively pushed through social networks and helped establish a single, coherent message within the structure and political leadership of the MUD.

Key Takeaways

  • Investing in and maintaining a database of voters, with particular emphasis on swing voters, can be a cost-effective means of generating election day support for under-resourced parties with low levels of political space;
  • While investment in a voter database is not necessary expensive, it does require a lot of staff and volunteer time and requires a good deal of upkeep to stay current;
  • Where there is reliable, accessible and widely used internet connection, a targeted social media campaign, with different strategies for differently leaning segments of the electorate, can enable parties to reach  wide swaths of the population and bypass geographical boundaries and the limits of the reach of traditional media. However, it is also important to think about those voters who are unable to get online, or choose not to go online and reach out to them accordingly; and
  • Tools that provide data on an outreach campaign’s efficacy, such as social media analytics, can help justify expenses and investment by measuring the campaign’s success.