A Data-Driven, Progressive Breakthrough in Kentucky

July 9, 2023

The Kentucky Commonwealth Alliance Voter Engagement (KY-CAVE) and the Protect Kentucky Access Coalition used Political Explorer to help defeat an anti-abortion referendum in 2022—in a state that Donald Trump had carried with 64% of the vote.

Political Explorer identified Kentuckians who had been energized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that removed the constitutional protection of abortion rights, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  Political Explorer was used to target, map and provide contact data not only for likely supporters of abortion rights among  likely voters—but also for an unprecedented and transformational focus on registering new voters.  

The Nov. 8, 2022, referendum was considered by voters after the Kentucky Legislature passed an almost-total ban on abortions in April 2022 and placed the referendum to reject any constitutional protections for abortion on the ballot.

In the aftermath of Dobbs, the Kentucky Legislature banned most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (except in medical emergencies), restricted access to medication abortion, and raised more barriers for minors seeking abortions. It did not include an exception for victims of rape or incest.

Although Gov Andy Beshear vetoed the bill, it was overwhelmingly overridden in the Kentucky House by a 76-21 margin and in the Senate by a 31-6 vote. The Kentucky Supreme Court refused to overturn the legislation in February. 

The Dobbs ruling spurred protests across the country, with thousands of abortion rights advocates participating in a “summer of rage” even as two dozen states either passed new laws or implemented “trigger” anti-abortion measures passed earlier that would take effect if Roe were ever overturned. The decision spurred a number of states to place abortion-related measures on their November ballots.

Although supporters were expected to pass measures expanding abortion rights in California, Michigan, and Vermont – and did so, handily -- Kentucky is one of the most culturally conservative states in the nation. The coalition recognized early that mobilizing abortion rights supporters in the November election would play a pivotal role in defeating the referendum.

Political Explorer, a joint venture between Social Explorer and Data Advocacy, was already at work on a platform that would allow users to target specific audiences with cutting-edge mapping and demographic tools, as well as voter registration data. The consortium, which grew to more than 10 organizations, approached the new venture about its capabilities. But it was already the middle of the summer, and the election was looming.

“There’s no firmer deadline in the world than an election,” said Roger Alan Stone, who founded Data Advocacy in 2010 and whose organization maintains a proprietary national voter file with more than 180 million records from every state. “It’s a one-day sale.”

Stone, whose proprietary data is integral to Political Explorer, said members of the coalition had two light-bulb moments: First, when they realized that the platform and data could be used to identify unregistered voters, and second when they realized that it would allow them to be much more sophisticated in targeting voters, since many advocacy groups simply register as many people as possible, regardless of their political affiliation or leanings.

Map created in Political Explorer with dynamic filtering identifying single mothers in the state of Kentucky

The coalition identified 763,363 people to target in a voter registration drive—people under 35, low-income voters, single women, Hispanics and African-Americans—while selecting out evangelicals and gun owners.

All told, the coalition made 1,867,016 voter contact attempts and completed over a million contacts—and registered 6,875 new voters.  Political Explorer helped boost turnout statewide by an average of 7.33%, resulting in 65,643 additional votes--the foundation of the 66,598 margin of victory.

When one coalition partner wanted to launch a blitz in four days before the election in a handful of precincts, Political Explorer generated a sophisticated targeting map that drove up voter turnout.

Map tracking KY CAVE and KCETA outreach efforts updated with data synced from the campaign

To provide accountability and transparency, Political Explorer tracked the contacts results by coalition partner, to show which groups were meeting their goals and which groups were falling short, as well as see how the overall campaign was going.

With Political Explorer, not only did the coalition win, the “Vote No” campaign was able to build progressive power in a deep-red state.