Million Sign-Ups to Trump Tulsa Rally Gifts 2020 Campaign Vital Data Haul

Donald Trump's Tulsa rally will provide the campaign optics the President has missed in recent months—but its true value could be in the form of data from ticket sign-ups.

Trump's Campaign Manager Brad Parscale described having 800,000 requests as the "Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x."

The president also boasted of the number of sign-ups on Monday, with the ticket sign-up form still available on the campaign site, which his campaign has said is upwards of 1 million.

At present, the event is to be held in a venue with a capacity of around 19,000, though there have been suggestions it could move to somewhat facilitate demand.

This would still leave hundreds of thousands of people unable to attend despite having registered to, going by the Trump campaign's numbers. And while they may not all be able to secure entry to the event, applicants have given their name, phone number, email address and postcode—along with the permission to be contacted with updates.

This decision to opt in and willingness to travel for and attend an in-person rally, despite concerns raised due to the COVID-19 pandemic, could make these particular supporters stand out from their counterparts in regards to value to the Trump campaign.

"It's not just data on a million voters, it's data on a million high-value voters, very reliable, strong supporters," Varoon Bashyakarla, a data scientist for Tactical Tech, an NGO which researches the impact of technology on society, told Newsweek.

"These are people who are willing to risk their health and attend this rally in the midst of a global pandemic.

"It's information on who's loyal, who's willing to travel the furthest, who might be willing to volunteer their time to knock on doors, to make phone calls."

President Donald Trump delivers remarks in front of the media in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020. He is due to resume physical campaigning with a rally in Tulsa. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

As well as being able to pinpoint voters who might add value to the campaign through their actions, the data could also source those willing to do so financially.

"Data is an asset," said Bashyakarla. "It's hard to say what the net impact will be, but it's hard to deny that a data grab like this is going to facilitate fundraising efforts for the campaign."

Eric Wilson, a digital-first political strategist who previously worked on Senator Marco Rubio's 2016 campaign for president, told Newsweek the number could be significant due to the fact it was a data set of people actively open to being contacted.

"It's a big number because it's people who've given permission-based opt in," he said.

"It's people raising their hands and saying they want to hear from the campaign."

"The value there is they're willing to take additional steps.

"I can get a list of a million people, but what if they don't want to hear from me?"

This could make them more likely to donate or spread the campaign message to their own connections, Wilson said.

Nicco Mele, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and previously the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, agreed the contacts generated by the rally could be useful in fundraising efforts.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden holds a roundtable meeting on reopening the economy with community leaders at the Enterprise Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 11, 2020. He and President Trump's campaigns have been digital in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

He told Newsweek: "Since the use of mainframe computers in the 70s, data has been a critical part of political campaigns. This trend has intensified in the last decade, with the collection and analysis of data becoming mission-critical in presidential campaigns, but even in smaller and smaller down-ballot campaigns. Data is used to increase the yield of fundraising campaigns, for targeting undecided voters with specific persuasion message, and for engaging and turning out the base.

"These people want to attend this rally, suggesting they are very engaged with the campaign and want to support Trump, making them high-priority fundraising targets for small dollar campaigns."

Mele raised the prospect of 5 percent of 1 million people donating $100 each, which would garner $5 million in total.

Paul Westcott, senior vice president of L2, which provides voter profile data to campaigns, told Newsweek the information gathered could be used alongside other details to help target messaging.

Commenting on the data gathered through the tickets, he said: "The campaign can match the data back to voter, consumer, demographic, and other data and use those matched voter audiences for direct contact for donations and get out the vote efforts. They can also use those matched voter segments for modeling and finding voters that look like those supporters who didn't sign up for the event but match the same profile based on geography, demographics, and hundreds of other attributes.

"Having first-party data collected from an individual willing to attend a rally is incredibly powerful especially in the age of COVID-19."

Colin Bennett, a professor in political science at Canada's University of Victoria, whose research has focused on the social implications from new information technologies, said the ticketing process might allow the campaign to get more accurate contact data compared to that already at its disposal.

He told Newsweek: "The data is added to the troves of other data being captured by the campaign through multiple other means., but this way, presumably they are getting more accurate contact details (especially emails).

"Allowing these sign-ups is another way to extend the outreach of the campaign."

Attaining this sort of data is being seen as increasingly crucial in winning elections by those involved in campaigns, Bennett added.

He said: "These campaign consultants still think that they can win elections if they have better, and more precise, data than the opponents. In close elections (like 2016) those votes can make a huge difference in the swing districts in the swing states—both through voter mobilization and voter suppression. the latter is going to get particularly ugly this time around – I would predict."

However, he said such data can be "notoriously inaccurate," while he also questioned the risk of damage to the campaign should COVID-19 spread at the rally: "On the other hand, I guess the rally itself could backfire if there are outbreaks of COVID traceable to it, no?"

Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, associate professor of new media at Fordham University and author of Using Technology, Building Democracy: Digital Campaigning and the Construction of Citizenship, also said the value of the data was dependent on how it expanded on what the campaign already had.

"I would suspect they already have a lot of the email addresses," she said.

"I think the question is really if these are new sign-ups, how many new people you're bringing into the fold."

She said the usefulness of the information would, in part, depend on new data points it could create with the details already stored by the Trump campaign and RNC, but agreed it could be used to facilitate fundraising.

Eitan Hersh, associate professor of political science at Tufts University, downplayed the benefit of the data gathered but agreed it could highlight particularly faithful backers.

"I would guess the list is useful for raising money from die-hard supporters and getting folks to volunteer to canvas, register voters, etc. Nothing particularly special or out of the ordinary, it seems to me," he told Newsweek.

He also suggested that many may already be on lists the campaign has access too and some could have signed up as "an expressive act."

Asked for comment on the data gained from the ticketing, Samantha Zager, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, told Newsweek the number of sign-ups was due to the enthusiasm generated by the president.

She said: "When President Trump holds a rally, he generates a level of enthusiasm previously unseen in American politics, as evidenced by the million-plus sign-ups for this weekend's rally in Oklahoma. No matter which city or state the president is visiting, he is always drawing new supporters into the fold—including formerly disengaged voters or even registered Democrats. Meanwhile, Joe Biden's campaign keeps him stashed away in his basement to prevent gaffes and distract voters from his four decades of failed policies."

Newsweek has also asked the Trump campaign for comment on concerns over the potential spread of COVID-19 at the rally.

The Biden campaign has also been contacted for comment in regard to the use of data in the election.

Trump's rally return comes after a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, with he and Democratic presidential candidate Biden having to focus resources upon online tactics.

Trump's team has urged Biden to move to physical campaigning. This comes as Biden increases his polling lead on Trump, with the president's ratings depleted amid the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread protests across the nation.