Data scientists are essential for modern political campaigns. Many techies desire to be more mission-driven than Silicon Valley.
WASHINGTON — Ariane Schang, a young data scientist and politician who was interested in both politics and data science, had not considered the possibility of combining them.
Schang had hoped to pursue a career in research or tech after she graduated college. She stumbled across a job listing that required people with technical backgrounds to help defeat President Donald Trump , and elect Democrats in the 2018 Midterms. On a whim, she applied.
“I wasn’t looking at politics.” She said that this was the only job in politics she applied for.
A group called DigitalDems listed the job and placed her there — paying her salary as an in kind contribution — to the campaign of Katie Porter, D.Calif., who won a seat previously held by Republicans in one of the most important House races in the country.
Schang was bitten by the politics bug, and is now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s campaigns data director.
“I didn’t know that data professionals or people with technical backgrounds could play a part in politics before DigiDems. It was not something that I had considered. She said that she couldn’t think of any other way to have been exposed to it.
As campaigns attempt to connect with, track, and identify thousands of voters and volunteers, they have become increasingly data-driven.
However, the professional networks of campaigns and tech are not often connected making it difficult for people to find each other. Tech skills are highly in-demand and thus expensive in today’s job market.
Allen Blue, a co-founder of LinkedIn and liberal donor, created DigiDems to address that problem and increase the Democratic Party’s talent pool. He recruited Silicon Valley veterans from companies such as Apple, Google, and Airbnb who wanted to do something more “mission driven.”
The group will spend approximately $5 million this year to hire 75 full-time tech staffers and place them in Democratic House, Senate, and Coordinated Campaigns across the country. They’ll also pay all or most of their salaries, so campaigns won’t have to.
Although the group has kept its profile low and rarely spoke to the media about their work, it is now more open as it launches its November recruitment in the face Democratic headwinds. Recognizing that there are less “civilians”, who want to get into politics, than during the Trump years, it has been more open to speaking out.
Kane Miller, executive director of the group, stated that technology is no longer a luxury for campaigns. It’s essential to win. This type of talent is very expensive. This type of talent is more expensive than your average campaign staffer, and can be hard to recruit for. These people are economically feasible to include in your team.
Other groups match workers with tech skills to help out in campaigns. DigiDems believes that outsiders bring new perspectives and can be persuaded to stay.
According to the group, 80 percent of its 2020 election-cycle recruits had never worked in a campaign before. However, 73 percent said they would like to return to politics.
Campaigns used to have two methods of reaching voters: knocking on doors and calling landline telephones. They only had one day to turn them out, Election Day.
A campaign might be running simultaneously, knocking on doors, sending text messages, organizing remote phone banks, activating social media networks, all the while trying to track who has returned a ballot and how many during a weeklong early voting window.
“If you are being effective with your voter, then you’re meeting them where they’re at. You aren’t texting a grandmother, and you’ren’t calling and leaving voicemails for Gen Zers when you should be texting them. Miller said that better data processing allows us to be more precise and granular. It’s underneath the hood. It’s similar to upgrading your campaign from V4 to V8. It might not be obvious, but it will result in better performance.