Already, the Obama camp has exploited VAN’s front-end systems. Anyone who went through my.barackobama.com to call voters before election day was using VAN interfaces; the lists of voters came from the VAN servers. And when callers extracted information from voters–such as who they planned to vote for or what positions they held on various issues–this refined information fed back to the VAN database, where it lives on. “The big question is how to parlay this kind of organizational capability into other things, like governing, like getting legislation passed,” says VAN founder Mark Sullivan. Although he doesn’t know what the Obama administration is planning, Sullivan predicts that “going forward, people are going to govern through a very different level of communication with the people they are governing.”
For example, pity the member of Congress who might try to hold up Obama legislation on, say, health care. In theory, supporters of the Obama administration could use the VAN database to generate lists of registered voters who not only live in that member’s congressional district, but who also expressed a strong interest in health-care reform or attended an Obama health-care event during the campaign. The database could also indicate who was likely to take up the fight, based on their prior history of donating or phone-bank volunteering, and provide clues about how these constituents could best be unleashed against the offending lawmaker.
The Obama administration or its supporters could also tap into the collective intelligence stored in the databases of Catalist, a voter-database company founded by Harold Ickes, former deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House. Catalist synthesizes databases of myriad progressive organizations to build ever-more-sophisticated understanding of voters’ belief systems and how they translate into votes and support across causes. Ickes says, “Come January, as [Obama and his team] start to focus legislatively on what their program is going to be–big stimulus package, health care, employee free-choice act–they will have some big initiatives. Obama is thinking big, but when you think big, you have to mobilize people. You can go [to specific groups] with a very targeted message … and have them, in turn, call and write and telephone and text-message. It is enormously powerful.”