Canvas smarter: Enhance voter files with targeting data and maps

5 mins read
Canvas smarter: Enhance voter files with targeting data and maps

Canvass smarter by enhancing voter files with demographic data and interactive maps. It’s fast, simple and affordable.

Business marketers use demographic data and visual analysis apps to decide where to focus and get the best return on their marketing dollars. The technology and data they use is proven and cost-effective as thousands of businesses use it. Savvy organizers and campaigns use the same tools. This blog describes how OPAL, an Ohio based Indivisible grassroots group plans its canvassing using voter files, demographic data and mapping software to find:

  • Concentrations of likely voters
  • Demographic data (income, race, age, disability etc.)
  • Political and voting insights by precinct (political party, voting turnout, etc.)
  • Local issues of concern (health insurance, employment, childcare, pollution etc.)

Precinct data overlaid with demographic data

Overlay voter file with precinct and demographic data for better results

How to overlay data

Combine data from different sources into a consolidated with something that the different pieces of information have in common, such as PRECINCT in this case. In geek speak this is called a ‘JOIN’. Records from the VOTER FILE can be mapped using PRECINCT and then overlaid with demographic data (such as age, race, disability etc.) for people who live in that precinct.

JOINS can merge data about anything from district, county or legislative district. Combine different pieces of information about a voter based on their address. Combine these different insights into a map as different layers. This map for instance, combines three layers of information about a precinct:

  • Biden voters in 2020
  • Health insurance coverage by age and race
  • Disability by gender and age

This allows OPAL planners to easily see at glance which precincts to focus on. The precincts are color coded so the precincts with more potential voters are shown in a darker color. Which precincts might be better covered by phone canvassing? The composition of who most likely lives in a precinct and their likely concerns. This helps choose canvassing volunteers who reflect that community.

Overlay the voter file with more targeting information for smarter canvassing

Precinct data overlaid with external demographic data

OPAL used ArcGIS Online for this project. The app provides a large catalog of map layers including the PRECINCT boundaries. Notice how additional details show up on the map as you zoom in.

Precinct data is first mapped using ArcGIS Online.

Focus your canvassing with better data

ArcGIS Online includes demographic data from the American Community Survey (ACS) at no extra charge. This information such as age, race, gender, insurance coverage etc. helps with campaign planning.

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about our nation and its people. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $675 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year. It provides information on jobs and occupations, educational attainment, veterans, whether people own or rent their homes, and other topics. Public officials, planners, and entrepreneurs use this information to assess the past and plan the future. ACS data helps communities plan for hospitals and schools, support school lunch programs, improve emergency services, build bridges, and help businesses.

Use ACS data on its own or overlaid on the voter file with ArcGIS Online. Results from canvassing can be exported and then uploaded to the Voter Activation Network (VAN) like NGP VAN or PDI. Apply for free help with this here.

ArcGIS Online provides a vast amount of data from different data sources including the American Community Survey for better decision marketing.

Ohio Progressive Action Leaders (OPAL)

OPAL is an Ohio based grassroots group that develops successful, coordinated, statewide responses to issues affecting Ohioans. It brainstorms the best place for voter registration drives, sharing canvassing experiences, debating messaging for a social media campaign. Join OPAL here or contact them here.Support OPAL

More resources

TakeAway: Register more voters and mobilize more supporters with data-driven canvassing.


DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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