Noah Levy was studying abroad in France when the idea first came to him. While the American University student went on sightseeing trips across Europe this spring, he also worked remotely on volunteer projects for Ben Jealous, the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
As he prepared to return to the U.S., Levy knew he wanted to do more. Now Levy, alongside college students from around the country, has launched Fact PAC, a political action committee providing free data and behavioral-science consulting to Democratic candidates who wouldn’t normally be able to afford it.
The group says it has already partnered with nine campaigns across the South, including several state senate candidates in Alabama, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, Fact PAC, which officially launched Aug. 20, hopes to be part of the movement that turns historically red districts blue this November.
“We look for people who are not incumbents, and we look for candidates who are running in places that are not necessarily covered by national media nor are being invested in by outside organizations,” Levy said. “We want to follow the mission of flipping districts from red to blue as opposed to just simply preserving the blue ones.”
Fact PAC offers three services, including help with grassroots organizing and behavioral insights, which tests voters’ responses to different campaign messages. But Levy and his team have been primarily focused on database consulting, a service that provides campaigns with a searchable database of voter history in their district based on public data.
“We show precinct by precinct how many people have turned out, how many people have registered, how many people stay at home, for each and every election cycle,” Levy said.
The group then creates a “heat map” showing the concentration of registered voters who have or haven’t turned out in previous elections. Using the map, candidates can identify the areas in their district that would benefit most from grassroots efforts, such as going door-to-door to talk to voters.
Levy was inspired to offer the service after building a similar database last fall for Mariah Phillips, a Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District.
“The data was remarkable because you would see that each and every individual precinct would only be lost for the Democrats by, let’s say, 100 people,” Levy said. “When I created this database back in November and December, I realized, ‘Oh my god, maybe more campaigns need this.’”
Levy and his chief of staff and co-founder, Cornell University student Alex Davis, say that it may be too early to see the impact of their work since the midterms have yet to take place. But they pointed to David Sadler, a Democrat running for state senate in Alabama, as an example of how their work can make a candidate’s life easier.
“He is a father of three children, he has his own business that he runs, and he’s essentially running his own campaign,” Levy said. “Someone like him does not have time to make all these fundraising calls to get the money that he needs to hire someone like me.”
By taking money out of the picture, Fact PAC is making it easier for candidates to take advantage of data to improve their campaigns, Davis said.
“As the political landscape changes, the ways that things are done have to change,” Davis added. “They don’t change on their own.”
Davis, who first came to know Levy when they both volunteered for the Jealous campaign, said this is the first election cycle where he is “awake and aware of everything that’s going on, both here and abroad.”
“With Democrats suddenly winning these district races that they weren’t predicted to win, I just had a real itch, a real burning desire, to get involved … and be part of something bigger than myself,” Davis said.
A surge of teenage political activism and young people running for office shows that Davis isn’t alone. Fact PAC’s team alone consists of students from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Cornell and American.
Part of the group’s mission is to show that young people have a lot to offer campaigns, whether as consultants, interns or volunteers, Levy said. He also hopes to motivate more young people to challenge the political status quo and to not fear the inevitable rejection that will come along the way.
“I want to inspire other students to do exactly what I’m doing, but better than me,” Levy said. “I want people out there to understand that it doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how young you are.
“If you’re competent, and if you market yourself to candidates, then you can make a world of difference.”