Austin Startup Voter Trove Brings Big Data Analytics to the GOP

Justin Gargiulo wants to bring Republican political campaigns into the 21st century.

The young political consultant was at an industry conference three years ago when he noticed that the panelists discussing campaign technology were either Democratic or non-partisan. “I thought, I’m a Republican. We should have this,” he says. “And I saw a market opportunity, too.”

The result is Voter Trove, an Austin software and data management startup specifically for conservative campaigns. The platform compiles voter information and public data from voter registrations and combines it with data culled from social media, membership directories, and petition signatures in order to create a detailed portrait of voters. Voter Trove has tools that help campaign strategists reach out to those voters in the most useful way possible, Gargiulo says, whether through robocalls, e-mails, or other means.

“They provide campaigns one-stop shopping,” says Josh Eboch, political director for Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s re-election campaign. “Now we can take these data sets and carve them up into interesting ways that I haven’t seen on other systems. We can do this down to the house delegate level, down to county precincts.”

What Voter Trove does is give Republican campaigns the same analytical tools that Somerville, MA-based firm NGP VAN (two firms, NGP Software and Voter Activation Network, merged in 2010) has brought to Democratic campaigns. NGP VAN has worked with clients such as the Democratic National Committee, the Liberal Party of Canada, and the AFL-CIO.

Gargiulo says Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 proved to be the wake-up call conservatives needed to follow suit.

While other Republican consultancies provide pieces of what Voter Trove provides, the startup brings both data gathering and outreach tools under one roof, Eboch says. “We can match our e-mail file up to the voter file in quick, simple way,” he says. “We can take people we may have found online through call-to-action and match them to voter records. This gives us a better understanding of how they voted and who they are.”

“Then we can go straight from the dashboard and set up auto polls or auto dials with prerecorded messages,” Eboch adds.

Since its founding, Voter Trove is being used or has been used in Republican campaigns in 18 states across the country, including battlegrounds like Florida as well as electoral-vote-heavy Texas and California. Gargiulo, who worked in Republican state politics in Connecticut before moving to Austin in 2010, says he bootstrapped the company for $100,000 and that he is now breaking even. Gargiulo says he is considering taking on outside investors to help hire on-staff software programmers. (So far, he has used contractors to get Voter Trove up and running.)

Voter Trove’s pricing varies on the types of office—Congressional versus mayoral, say—but campaigns pay an average of $950 a month to use the company’s platform. Making calls through the site is an additional 4 cents a minute per call.

One big selling point for Eboch is Voter Trove’s simple user interface, which more resembles your favorite retailer’s website than a data-heavy and hard-to-read spreadsheet.

Gargiulo says his next aim is to be hired by a Republican presidential contender for 2016. “We’re talking to a few of them,” he says of possible candidates. “I think we’re really well positioned to get something.”

It was the fight for the White House in 2008 where Big Data, used by the Obama campaign, flexed its power in electoral politics. With modern data analytics, individual voters could be assessed on their own, instead of being evaluated as part of a statistical sampling, according to a Technology Review article that analyzed the Obama campaign’s use of Big Data.

For political strategists on both sides of the aisle, the Obama campaign set the standard for voter engagement and outreach policies. “We all feel like Barack Obama was a beatable incumbent and we lost,” he says. “Why? And how do we make sure that, beyond Obama, down to the city council level, that we have our data and technology infrastructure down?”

For Eboch, a veteran of 20 campaigns and a former campaigns manager for Freedom Works, a conservative grassroots organization in Washignton, DC, Voter Trove aims to create a level playing field for Republican candidates.

“They’ve [Democrats] been doing it successfully for a while,” he says. “It’s exciting for Republicans to have a tool for us to do this, too.”

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