What’s In a Data Append?

When TargetSmart’s CEO last week flagged that five Trump appointees or family members were registered to vote in two locations, I wasn’t surprised. In my four years at NationBuilder, I spent hundreds of hours researching state voter records and working on projects to assemble decent files for thousands of campaigns that use that software company’s tools.

When voters move, they can end up with ghost records. And overly aggressive purges can end up throwing legitimate voters off the roles. So voter files end up a morass of outdated and inconsistent records, with different formats, quality and completeness from state to state. That’s why firms like TargetSmart exist, why NationBuilder staffs a voter file team, and why politics is big business for general append services like Accurate Append (my consulting client), Melissa Data, Peachtree Data, Authenticom, InfoUSA and many more.

The data append world is important for anyone looking to do voter contact. Using the best possible data can lead to a 50% increase in contacts using texting apps like Hustle, Relay, and HandStack, and save hundreds to thousands of dollars in mail costs.

So let’s look at some of the common append world terminology:

Phone Append” — A phone append generally refers to numbers that come from directory assistance. Verizon runs the most complete and up-to-date directory assistance service and the top vendors have access to daily updates.

Cell/Mobile Phone Append” — This is where things start to get interesting. Because cellular phones aren’t included in directory assistance, data vendors compile their own files through consumer opt-ins (like those vacation offer kiosks at ballgames) and swap and sell their lists to each other to amass hundreds of millions of consumer mobile numbers. However, because the lists aren’t official from the cellular service providers and folks move and change mobile numbers frequently, you can expect much lower accuracy rates than when reaching directory assistance landlines.

Email Append” — This is the same category as cell numbers. Emails assembled through third-party opt-in offers can round out a list, but accuracy varies, and responsiveness will be low. Still, professionally matched email files may be more accurate than files where voters give but don’t update their email address (California voter files include email at the county level).

Lead Validation” — If you have an opt-in form on your site, real-time lead verification through an API (application programming interface) can provide a low-cost way to screen out “Mickey Mouse” signups and even to fill in missing or additional information on signups. Progressives should look for vendors that use the Open Supporter Data Initiative standards for their APIs.

Data Append” — In addition to the above, the big append vendors often have consumer data like birthdates, Census-modeled demographics, consumer information such as subscriptions, and modeled or actual donation histories.

Whenever your campaign needs veer into the data arena, you can remember the Trump “voter fraud” witch hunt as a cautionary tale about data quality. People move and switch phones and emails all the time and your job is to keep up.