On Election Night in 2013, long after we knew who’d be the next mayor of New York and governor of Virginia, news outlets reported the race for attorney general in Virginia was too close to call—and Mark Obenshain, the Republican candidate, was in the lead.
But at the Democratic National Committee, we were pretty sure that things would swing our way.
Here’s why: Hours earlier, our data analysts had recalibrated their model based on voter turnout, and their projection left us confident not only that there would be a recount—but that Mark Herring, the Democrat, would win. As a result, our voter expansion team began preparations that night, and we had a jump start on mobilizing volunteers who would chase provisional ballots over the next few days.
The model was right. Herring is now the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The technology and learning that helped Democrats win in Virginia last November wasn’t created overnight, and it wasn’t created from scratch in 2013. It was the result of a decade-long investment by the Democratic Party. And the resulting innovations reflect our core Democratic values — that we are better with more inclusion, more participation, and when more voices get heard. That’s what both Obama campaigns did, and now Democratic races of all sizes will have access to the same technology.
In 2013, the DNC worked to make the Obama campaign’s cutting-edge tools and technology scalable to races of all sizes. Because of our investment, more than 250 days before the 2014 Election Day, Democrats up and down the ballot are writing campaign plans and calculating budget numbers, confident that they’ll be able to draw upon the same data resources and technological tools that helped President Obama to win reelection—just like Mark Herring did.
And he wasn’t the only one.
Terry McAuliffe’s campaign built and utilized a polling place locator tool in partnership with the DNC. The tool is streamlined and user-friendly, but the technology that powers it took years to develop, test, and refine. Over the course of the election, approximately the same number of people used the tool to find their polling place as the number of voters who ended up being Governor McAuliffe’s margin of victory. In 2014, Democrats across the country will be able to to use a white-label version of the same tool to help direct voters to the polls on Election Day.
And that’s just one piece of technology the Obama campaign used to great effect that we’re making widely available this year.
In 2012, when you signed up for information at BarackObama.com, a piece of technology code named Airwolf compared your voter profile against a data model to determine your support score, and then automatically delivered a message from a local campaign organizer reminding you to cast a ballot, sign up to make calls, or volunteer to canvass your neighborhood. It made the connection between the online and offline worlds of the campaign nearly seamless and helped to make the best field program in the history of American politics a little bit more efficient, a little bit better.
Just like the polling place look up tool, Airwolf didn’t go away when President Obama won reelection.
The underlying codebase, along with the voter data and supporter models that powered the technology, are in the hands of the DNC because in 2013, the Obama campaign made a strategic decision to house all of their data and technology assets with the party. And today, engineers and analysts are working to make them available to state parties and targeted races all across the country.
All of this work is part of Project Ivy at the DNC. We’re building on a foundation of experimentation, analysis, and thought leadership that stretches back a decade to develop tools and technology to empower state parties, campaigns, organizers, and voters.
We’re calling ourselves Project Ivy because it’s where we’re located — on Ivy Street in Washington, D.C. — but the name is also a direct call back to our past. Through the course of four different iterations of investment in digital and technology, this team has helped to break through barriers and elect Democrats up and down the ballot. Plus, ivy is resilient, gets stronger year after year, and is tough enough to tear down walls—just like our program.
We believe that Project Ivy is going to help Democrats win elections at all levels and move our country forward.
And we want you to be part of it.
Matt Compton is the Digital Director at the Democratic National Committee, and Andrew Brown is the Technology Director at the Democratic National Committee.