A well-structured and comprehensive database provides the foundation for a candidate or party’s efforts to communicate with and track voters. All other, more sophisticated technology stems from the database and is virtually ineffective without the information in the member database. This tool allows a party to keep track of its members and the party’s interactions with them. For example, a party could use its member database to determine whether a person has volunteered their time, contributed money or attended party conventions in the past. Those who have contributed or volunteered in the past are most likely to contribute or volunteer in the future, and as a result, donor and member lists are important assets; building them into the party database makes them more usable.
However, without effective data collection, databases are not particularly helpful. Faulty or incomplete data collection may lead a political party to draw erroneous conclusions, or could leave important gaps, limiting a party’s ability to act on the gathered information. Good data collection will help a party draw a comprehensive picture of voters that can
shape all aspects of party-constituent interaction.
If the the information goes beyond demographics and finance, it can also be used to target party resources in an efficient manner. For example, if a party collects information on how constituents consume information (e.g., on social media, via radio, by reading the newspaper) and tracks trends in consumption based on age and location, it can target its message to specific demographics. Instead of paying for outreach on all media outlets, for instance, the party can send a targeted message via one media platform to young people in a specific region, and another targeted message to rural middle aged women via a different media platform.
Member databases are generally used for tracking interactions with party members, while voter files are used to track the electorate at large and help the party better use its limited resources. However, practically speaking, there is little reason to keep separate databases of members and voters. In fact, in most cases it may be more convenient and efficient to maintain all of the data in a single database. A party’s goal is to recruit as many voters as possible to the party: any voter is a potential party member. A single database makes it easier to shift a voter’s status from potential party member to actual member. For example, the most likely people to become party members are the family of existing members, and an integrated database of members and voters allows the party to systematically identify family members of those who already support the party.
Similarly, there is little technical reason to maintain separate databases of voters and financial supporters; however, there may be organizational or legal requirements that dictate the two be kept separate. For example, in the United States, political parties maintain separate databases of financial contributors in order to comply with legal transparency and reporting requirements. If there is no such legal prohibition, it is more efficient to maintain a single database.