RNC launching new data-sharing platform

People take part in early voting in Columbus, Ohio October 30, 2012. A tense and unpredictable race for the White House became even more so on Monday, as mammoth storm Sandy created delicate political challenges for President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney and raised the possibility of a chaotic voting process. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ELECTIONS POLITICS)
People take part in early voting in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 30, 2012. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

The Republican National Committee is launching an ambitious data-sharing effort as part of a bid to catch up with Democrats on campaign technology.

First reported by Roll Call, the roll-out comes months after an RNC report urging the party to improve its data collection and sharing. 

Information from the long-standing RNC data warehouse will be put on an open platform built by Liberty Works, a new firm backed by San Francisco private equity investor Dick Boyce. The platform will have a programming interface accessible to committees, state parties, candidates, vendors and third-party groups so they can create their own customized applications to work with the data. Data Trust will facilitate the sharing of data.

The RNC compares it to Apple and the App Store. The goal is for various Republican entities to experiment with the data, build tools to work with it and feed the information they get from their efforts back into the RNC.

“For the first time ever, a party committee is going to create an open data environment to give Republican data users more access to the RNC’s premier data warehouse," said  RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski in a statement.

Data Trust was formed by Republicans in 2011 to help GOP committees exchange voter-file lists. But after the 2012 election, the Republican data operation looked woefully inadequate compared to the huge amounts of information assembled and mined by President Obama's campaign.

The RNC Growth and Opportunity Project report suggested that Data Trust might be replaced, saying that “if Data Trust is not capable of rising to the new data challenges we face, other partners should be identified." Instead, the RNC is partnering with both Data Trust and Liberty Works.

“Our venture will change the game with a Republican, free-enterprise approach to data and technology," Boyce said.

The RNC also plans to expand its data team and make data analytics a priority.

A big challenge for this effort will be making sense of the huge amount of information involved. The Obama campaign struggled to match up pieces of data from different lists — what Project Narwhal was created to do. An entire party will need to put even more work into making all the data work together.

Republicans' data are also more fragmented. On the Democratic side, two sources of data — Catalist and the DNC voter file — are dominant,  as is one data storage firm — NGP VAN — making coordination easier. Several companies besides Liberty Works have launched data platforms aimed at Republicans, including one backed by the Koch brothers. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been working on his own data collection and analysis project.

While there will always be some competition, the RNC hopes that Republicans will see the value in working together to improve the quality of data. By making the platform open, the RNC hopes to foster the free-market ethos Republicans favor while encouraging a more collaborative effort.

"I think it's great, I think it's exactly what the Republicans need to do to not just catch up with Democrats but to innovate so we can get ahead them," said Mark Harris, Sen. Pat Toomey's campaign manager in 2010. But he said, "a lot of it is going to depend on how liberal they are with allowing people access."

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