The Signal spoke to Becca Blais, Bluebonnet Data’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, and Christina Hahn, the organization’s Communications Director, in order to gain a thorough understanding of the data infrastructure/talent gap in Democratic politics and how Bluebonnet Data is working to bridge it.
Bluebonnet Data is an organization that bridges the gap between technology talent and political campaigns by training and assigning data and tech volunteer groups to campaigns across the country. Blais expressed that Bluebonnet Data fills a certain niche in democratic political campaigns, where there are “a lot of data projects, but not a lot of data people.” This is where Bluebonnet comes in, allowing data and technology groups to break into the political space, fulfilling a dire need in the Democratic Party.
Blais stresses the importance of data in a political campaign, “at its essence, data lets you know who your voters are, where they live, and what they care about.” The way political campaigns use data is extremely vital to short term and long term strategy, and plays an important role in addressing and possibly flipping voters in historically red districts.
Unfortunately, data and technology talent is an area the Democratic Party is arguably lagging in when compared with the Republicans. While this may sound somewhat counterintuitive, considering the majority of younger, more tech-savvy people, fall to the left of the political spectrum, the Republican Party actually does a better job of consolidating and coordinating data and technology efforts.
Blais describes the Republican data sharing infrastructure as one that allows “[data exchange] from every level of the ballot within a state,” allowing their campaigns to be more time efficient in relation to data. On the other hand, in the case of the Democratic Party, the data is siloed, meaning that there is far less data sharing happening between campaigns up and down the ballot within a state.
The gap between the two parties exists in the technology and digital sphere as well, such as during the 2016 election when the Trump campaign outspent the Clinton campaign on Facebook. While the Clinton campaign focused on the New York Times and Politico, the Trump campaign spent on Facebook, AOL, and Youtube, demonstrating the technology strategy gap between the Republican and Democratic parties. Although the Democratic party has made significant technological strides since 2016, the adoption of this technology and availability of talent is lagging behind.
Bluebonnet Data aims to fulfill this need within the Democratic party to modernize political campaigns with data volunteer teams, specifically in states and districts that have less focus from the national party, states that have long been deemed permanently red or a lost cause. Bluebonnet Data has its roots in Texas, with its founding as part of Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign. The organization has since expanded to a national presence on campaigns all up and down the ballot. As of now, Bluebonnet has worked on over 600 campaigns and trained over 1000 fellows, having a sizable and impressive impact on the face of national progressive politics, pushing the party towards a more technologically oriented future.
Following their founding, Bluebonnet Data has maintained an important focus on Texas politics. Blais describes Texas as the “canary in the coalmine” for national politics, meaning that what happens in Texas precedes what happens on a national level. “If we don’t pay attention to Texas, then we’re really missing out on a more comprehensive strategy as a party.” Currently in Texas, their data volunteer teams are working for over 10 campaigns and organizations, including Beto O’Rourkes gubernatorial campaign.
The organization emphasizes the importance of long term progressive infrastructure in the fight to flip districts and states blue. In Blais’s view, no district is a lost cause, stating that Bluebonnet Data works in the “reddest of the red.” Blais stressed that long term change is an important tenet of Bluebonnet Data’s value and mission. “Our belief is that you have to make investments in those red districts. There are still
voters there that might want to be included. Even if the R+12 district isn’t going to flip this year, if you make investments in it now, you can build long term growth for the state,” she said.
Blais and Hahn also stressed the need for Democrats to focus on more local, down ballot campaigns to battle the Republican strategy. The Republican strategy is based on “down ballot investment and cooperation,” Blais said. While on the other hand, the Democrats tend to focus more on candidates with starpower as well as races with more immediate potential results. Blais highlighted the importance of down ballot elections in relation to long term democratic strategy, saying that “the down ballot space is the lab for democracy, it’s where you get the most impact for representation, and it’s where future representatives get their experience and start building their communities and connections.” Bluebonnet Data emphasizes this in the way they assign their data & tech volunteer teams, focusing on races up and down the ballot from municipal and local races to statewide campaigns.
Bluebonnet Data provides a feasible way for anyone, regardless of age or walk of life, to participate and contribute to the civic and political process. Becca and Christina emphasized that Bluebonnet Data is a way for everyone to help, adding that “it doesn’t matter if you’re new to politics – if you can use a computer, you can help,” making a vital and persuasive case for building a civic culture through data and technology.