Campaigns May Wield Redistricting Tools, Revisited
Thursday, February 24, 2005 at 09:49AM
Political Mammal in Company history, My personal history, Political Technology

NGP Software stands for National Geographical and Political Software, and emphatically not, as some have charged, for my initials (Nathaniel G. Pearlman). Occasionally I am asked where the “Geographical” part of the company’s name comes from, since it seems to be the least emphasized part. I answer that mapping is an exceptionally good tool for understanding politics, and that I am very pleased when I find a client who appreciates that, or a project comes in that lets us exercise our expertise in that area. Last fall, for example, we enjoyed helping Congressman Visclosky determine how to most efficiently place more than 6000 yard signs across his district.

I came across a piece of memorabilia yesterday that reminded me of this subject. It was several loose pages from what appears to be the March 1991 issue of Campaign Industry News, a long defunct publication that I believe was folded into or sold to Campaigns and Elections Magazine many years ago. I had written (but long-since forgotten) an article for that short-lived industry rag (Campaign Industry News). The article was entitled “Campaigns May Wield Redistricting Tools.” There was another article in the same issue by a Republican redistricting expert, Thomas Hofeller, titled “Redistricting in the Computer Age.”

In my brief article, I concluded that “geographically organized data may be campaign software’s wave of the future.” I explained how, in what was then an important innovation, redistricters “bring the political and demographic together with specialized mapping software.” I then conjured up an image of “a modern campaign headquarters” that could look “like a mini-Pentagon,” with “huge video screens showing maps of territory to be conquered.” On the maps, I wrote, “information from the campaign database, from donor lists to results of past races and demographic information could all be available.” If one wished, I continued, to “see precincts where large sum donors live, they could pop up immediately. Or one could circle an area with untapped potential for your candidate, and receive a report of exactly which volunteers were available there to distribute leaflets, make phone calls, or drive voters to the polls.”

Nowadays, the use of computer mapping technology or geographically coded data in politics is commonplace, but still underused. GIS systems or mapping libraries are inexpensive and the necessary data is much more readily available than it used to be. According to my article, I asked Hofeller in 1991 whether Republicans were going to use mapping technology and political data generated for redistricting in political campaigns. Hofeller replied mysteriously that he was “well aware of valuable residual applications.”

I know of numerous instances where enterprising individuals or companies have made progress in this area, but I’m always interested in learning more. If anyone out has seen particularly interesting applications of mapping to politics, let me know.

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