Heat. Humidity. Sweat. Two guys hitting each other for the fun of it. Welcome to college football! 

College football kicked off (finally) on Saturday with a bang. The bands played, the fans screamed, and the players left it all on the field on the way to a “W.” Fresh out of Fall camp, the players were prepared. That’s what Fall camp is all about – putting the team in the best possible position to win. 

Early fall presents the same opportunity for political campaigns, it’s a chance to prepare to win. 

Work now so that when voters start paying attention you are ready and not playing catch up. 

In politics, money might be the “quarterback,” but data calls the plays – You count on your QB to move the ball down the field, but if no one is there to call the plays, you’re going to find yourself punting in November.  

Good research is key to crafting a successful election strategy. Here are five ways you can use data to win big. 

1. Wisely spend your money 

A good coach has a good playbook; data helps you create yours. well scripted, accurate poll is a worthwhile investment that will end up saving your campaign money in the long run. It doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) on TV or mail just to find out later the content was wrong, or worse, you targeted the wrong audience. Good research serves as a guide for where to spend your (limited) budget. 

2. Refine your message 

Coaches know the other teams and what they do well. Good campaigns are no different. Many times, candidates harp on an issue to later find out their constituents either didn’t care about that issue or, worse yet, disagreed with the candidate’s stance. In an election cycle like this one, where the electorate is as fickle as ever, knowing exactly what moves the needle is crucial.  

Why talk about the economy if your voters are more concerned about gun control? If you fail to poll your race and figure out the hot button issues, you will not only be wasting money, but you very well could be building support for your opponent. 

3. Find your blind spots 

In football, the left tackle (usually) must protect the quarterback’s blind spot. In campaigns, data helps you protect yours. You don’t know what you don’t know. We all fall victim to anecdotal evidence or believing what those around us say. Often, we end up believing one thing when reality is something else.  

The only way to truly known what voters think is to ask them. Polling will reveal both a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and will help you discover how to respond when your opponent tries to exploit those weaknesses. 

4. Identify your voters

Fans are important to college football, but they don’t affect the outcome. It’s players that win games. Similarly, the only people who can carry you to victory are the voters. Pundits, consultants, and even (to some extent) the candidates themselves, don’t really matter. What matters is how voters feel. You want voters who feel your candidate is right for the job to be sure to vote.  

But how do you do that?  

You use polling to identify by demographic, location, issue preference, and in some cases even by name, who your likely voters are. Then, you put your GOTV effort in place and move on toward victory. 

5. Track your progress 

Your data gathering and usage shouldn’t end with a single benchmark poll. As the election draws near you need to see if what you are doing is working.  

Are undecideds breaking your way? Has something happened to change what issues are most important? Fielding several brushfires throughout the campaign coupled with a voter ID effort toward the end, will help you track your progress and make any needed halftime adjustments. 

Forego polling at your own risk

If you avoid polling, you are starting the game at 4th-and-longHaving accurate data through each stage of the campaign will make sure your candidate “takes it to the house” come November 6.