#CyberFLASH: How old-school volunteer armies use data analytics to focus campaign efforts

cra-data-security-2Some 3,500 Liberal volunteers knocked on more than 200,000 doors in 190 ridings across the country last weekend.

Good old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground campaigning to identify potential supporters for this fall’s election, right?

Not quite.

Those volunteers are the vanguard of the modern style of campaigning that melds traditional person-to-person contact with sophisticated, big data analytics to allow political parties to identify, target and mobilize likely supporters in ways not imagined just a decade ago.

The Conservatives were the first to recognize the value of harnessing technology in 2004, adopting techniques pioneered in the United States to create a massive database of voters known as the Constituent Information Management System. CIMS has given the ruling party a significant advantage ever since, both in fundraising and microtargeting niches of potential voters.

In recent years, New Democrats and Liberals have been racing to catch up, hiring data analytics experts and overhauling what had been haphazard efforts to amass databases.

The Liberal Party agreed to give The Canadian Press a rare glimpse of how it gathers information on voters and what analysis of all those data enables it to do.

Start with last weekend’s canvassing.

Gone are the days of volunteers standing on doorsteps with a clipboards and voters’ lists, ticking off likely supporters. The modern Liberal canvasser now carries a smartphone or tablet, loaded with the mini-VAN app. It was developed by U.S.-based NPG VAN and used to great effect by Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

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