Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio spent $40,000 in April to buy the latest data on Republican Iowa caucus voters, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Now, the Iowa state GOP has made its voter data more accessible to campaigns and pollsters that don't need the full set of GOP voter data or have found it cost-prohibitive to buy all of it. The state party has aligned with Data Trust, the data firm that manages a national voter file for Republicans and right-leaning groups, to serve up Iowa caucus voter data in smaller chunks, and ready it for use for online ad targeting.
Voter data across the rest of the country is publicly available from secretaries of state at relatively low costs, but like the Iowa caucuses and the hoopla that surrounds them, the data on people who participate in the earliest presidential vote is in a class by itself. Iowa caucus data is owned by the Republican and Democratic state parties, because the parties hold the caucuses. That data can cost around $40,000 to $60,000 for the latest batch of information on who voted in the last and previous caucuses. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders dropped even more -- $60,000 in June -- for data on Iowa's Democratic caucus voters.
"Past participation in a caucus is the greatest indication of future participation in a caucus," said Charlie Szold, communications director at the Iowa GOP.
"The campaigns internally have access to this data and they're paying quite a bit of money," said Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of political ad analytics startup Echelon Insights and former RNC digital strategy director. "It's fair to say it's a strong fundraising tool for the state party."
Now, Data Trust has an exclusive agreement with the Iowa GOP allowing the company to sell modeled caucus voter segments built using age and demographic data for $3,500 each. Some segments might include known caucus goers in addition to people likely to participate in 2016.
"It's absolutely the first time this data is available in this way," said Mr. Szold, who said the list encompasses around 200,000 previous Republican caucus goers. "Now it's available in more affordable sections and chunks," he said, noting that the full data set, which the party updates to remove data on people who have moved out of state or died, is "a very expensive list."
Both parties have put resources towards making voter data more accessible and simpler to apply for use in political campaigning. In conjunction with that broader goal, the Iowa caucus data has been "on-boarded" or matched to digital data such as site-registration information to allow campaigns and organizations on the right to target digital ads directly to former Iowa caucus voters on platforms including Facebook.
Campaigns and advocacy groups will be able to work with Data Trust ad partners to conduct the campaigns. "We're talking to all the major ad partners to allow clients to buy inventory against these audiences, including Doubleclick, Tubemogul, Rocketfuel, AOL, Brightroll and Collective," said a Data Trust spokesman.
Data Trust is evaluating "the other places that we can work with the party to help them be able to get some of this stuff out in the marketplace and generate some revenue for them, and the obvious place was online advertising," said John DeStefano, president and CEO of Data Trust.
In August the DNC announced its partnership with data services firm Experian and its preferred political data partner TargetSmart Communications; TargetSmart worked with Experian to turn the Democratic Party's voter file into data that can be used readily to aim video ads, addressable television spots, and mobile and desktop display advertising at specific voters.
The Iowa GOP's data-accessibility initiative is not just about ad targeting. In a prolonged campaign season when polls are published everyday months before the February 1 Iowa caucuses, the validity of data used to survey voters can have an immense impact on the perception of candidates and the strength of their campaigns.
"It really solves a big problem," said Mr. Ruffini, who suggested that many polls by media entities intended to reflect the opinions of Iowa caucus voters are conducted without employing the data from parties on previous caucus goers and thus are "very susceptible to a lot of error."
"Traditionally, you had to be on a campaign that paid for the entire list from the Iowa GOP, which is not cost effective for outside entities who are interested in one-time efforts like a poll," said BJ Martino, senior VP at Republican polling firm The Tarrance Group. "Opinion research has been left with few options. One is to call every registered Republican and ask if they are participating in the caucuses, which is an expensive proposition to do right."
The Data Trust requires its customers using the Iowa caucus data to update the database with changes to phone numbers and enhance it with "disposition data" showing information such as how long a survey participant spent on the phone, said a company spokesman, who added that responses to ads targeted using the data aren't required.~ ~ ~
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the Data Trust was established by the Republican National Committee.