How serious is Donald Trump? His campaign lacks one essential tool

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He has a commanding lead in the polls, but Donald Trump is the only Republican presidential candidate who hasn't purchased a database of voter information, which political campaigns use to target supporters and mobilize them on election day.

Modern campaigns also rely on voter files to plan everything from advertising to events, and accurate information is particularly key in the early state of Iowa, where voters will select a candidate in January through a complicated caucus process that gathers individuals in a room to make a group decision. Meticulous organization is seen as the key to victory.

But Trump's campaign hadn't purchased any voter information as of the end of September, according to financial disclosures analyzed by Quartz, and his campaign confirms that he is not using the national Republican party's voter file.

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Voter databases are created from the electoral rolls of registered voters in a given county, but those records quickly become outdated as people move or pass away. They also don't reflect which registered voters actually vote on a regular basis. Campaigns constantly update this information by canvassing neighborhoods and calling voters, then share it with national party organizations or private companies who attempt the keep the information as current and usable as possible.

Political operatives from both parties said they didn't know how Trump would turn out his supporters without a voter file.

"The voter file is a foundational piece for any grassroots campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire," Patrick Ruffini, a veteran GOP operative who founded digital agency Engage, told Quartz. "If Trump's campaign were not using any voter file, even after being offered it by the RNC, that would be a pretty shocking statement."

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Donald Trump through the years
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How serious is Donald Trump? His campaign lacks one essential tool
Real estate developer Donald Trump annouces intentions to build a $100 million dollar Regency Hotel. (Photo by John Pedin/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 02: Donald Trump with Alfred Eisenpreis, New York City Economic Development Administrator. Sketch of new 1,400 room Renovation project of Commodore Hotel. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - 1980: Donald Trump and Ivana Trump attend Roy Cohn's birthday party in February 1980 in New York City. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 26: Donald Trump stands behind architect's model of City Hall Plaza. (Photo by Frank Russo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Donna Mills and Donald Trump during 1983 Annual American Image Awards at Sheraton Center in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Portrait of real estate mogul Donald John Trump (b.1946), smiling slightly and facing to his right, 1983. New York. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)
New York real estate magnates Steve Ross, right, and Donald Trump, left, announce agreement, Thursday, August 1, 1985 in New York, to merge the Houston Gamblers and the New Jersey Generals United States Football League teams. Ross heads a group of investors that last week agreed to buy the troubled Houston franchise. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
Real estate magnate Donald Trump poses in front of one of three Sikorsky helicopters at New York Port Authority's West 30 Street Heliport on March 22, 1988. (AP Photo/Wilbur Funches)
Ivana Trump and Donald Trump during Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks Fight at Trump Plaza - June 27, 1988 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Donald Trump and his wife, Ivana, pose outside the Federal Courthouse after she was sworn in as a United States citizen, May 1988. (AP Photo)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 4: Billionaire Donald Trump and his wife Ivana arrive 04 December 1989 at a social engagement in New York. (Photo credit should read SWERZEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Shown in photo is Donald Trump, Nov. 20, 1990. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Billionaire developer Donald Trump, right, waits with his brother Robert for the start of a Casino Control Commission meeting in Atlantic City, N.J., March 29, 1990. Trump was seeking final approval for the Taj Mahal Casino Resort, one of the world's largest casino complexes. (AP Photo)
Developer Donald Trump, center, is flanked by super middleweight champion Thomas Hearns, left, of Detroit, and Michael Olajide of Canada at a news conference in New York Thursday, Feb. 15, 1990. The three announced the super middleweight title bout at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort at Atlantic city, N. J on April 28.(AP Photo/Timothy Clary)
Real estate magnate Donald Trump and his girlfriend Marla Maples are seen at the Holyfield-Foreman fight at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J., April 19, 1991. (AP Photo)
Donald Trump and Daughter Ivanka Trump during Maybelline Presents 1991 Look of the Year at Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 7: Donald Trump touches 07 April 1993 Marla Maples stomach to confirm published reports that the actress is pregnant with his child. The two arrived for Maples appearance in the Broadway musical 'The Will Rogers Follies'. (Photo credit should read HAI DO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: US business tycoon Donald Trump(C) enters the PLaza Hotel in New York past supporters 21 December 1994. Hundreds of supporters showed up at a news conference where Trump denied a New York newspaper report that the Sultan of Brunei had bid 300 million USD to buy the Manhattan hotel. (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE--This is a 1994 file photo of Donald Trump. Trump said Wednesday, Oct. 23, 1996 he has bought the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen beauty pageants from ITT. ``It's a done deal,'' Trump said in a telephone interview. ``It's a very, very great entertainment format. It gets very high ratings, it's doing very well and we'll make it even better.'' Trump declined to say how much he paid. Asked if a New York Post source was correct in saying the deal was worth tens of millions of dollars, Trump replied, ``Why not? (AP Photo/Jim Cooper)
FLUSHING MEADOWS, UNITED STATES: Donald Trump and his girlfriend Celina Midelfar watch Conchita Martinez and Amanda Coetzer 07 September at US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY. AFP PHOTO Timothy CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Christine Whitman during Opening of New Warner Bros. Store in Trump Plaza Casino at Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
In this June 7, 1995 file photograph, Donald Trump is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after taking his flagship Trump Plaza Casino public in New York City. Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., based in Atlantic City, New Jersey, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey. Trump and his daughter Ivanka resigned from the company's board Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, after growing frustrated with bondholders. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens,File)
Celine Dion, husband Rene, Donald Trump & Ivanka Trump (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Entrepreneur Donald Trump watches an undercard fight as an unidentified companion whispers into his ear before the start of the Mike Tyson versus Francois Botha bout at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, Saturday, Jan. 16, 1999. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
Developer Donald Trump holds an umbrella as he walks Saturday, Nov. 9, 2002, to the 11th green of the Ocean Trail Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Trump plans to turn the beleagured golf club into a world class course. Trump intends to close on the golf club by December and hopes to begin improvements by January. He could reopen the course, 20 miles south of Los Angeles, as early as June. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Entrepreneur Donald Trump (L) and Rev. Al Sharpton speak at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Sharpton's National Action Network Convention April 5, 2002 in New York City. The group aims to further the development of civil rights. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and his girlfriend Melania Knauss attend the Marc Bouwer/Peta Fall/Winter 2002 Collection show February 14, 2002 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City. (Photo by George De Sota/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 06: WBC Kampf im Schwergewicht 2003, New York/Madison Square Garden; Vitali KLITSCHKO/UKR - Kirk JOHNSON/CAN; Donald TRUMP als Zuschauer (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Donald Trump stands on the sidelines before the start of the AFC divisional playoffs between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans on January 10, 2004 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Temperatures have reached as low as 7 degrees in the Foxboro area. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
US tycoon Donald Trump arrives to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 10: Donald Trump speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump attends Golf legend Jack Nicklaus' Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda March 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Trump announed on March 18 that he has launched a presidential exploratory committee. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - MAY 16: Businessman Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa gave several Republican presidential hopefuls an opportunity to strengthen their support among Iowa Republicans ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Developer Donald Trump displays a copy of his net worth during his announcement that he will seek the Republican nomination for president, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump gives a thumbs up before boarding his campaign plane to depart from Laredo, Texas, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AYR, SCOTLAND - JULY 30: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry with his children Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. Donald Trump answered questions from the media at a press conference. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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This year, the Republican National Committee, which is sharing data with two private firms,the GOP Data Trust and i360, has offered its voter file free-of-charge to all Republican primary candidates. According to Yahoo News, all of the contenders have taken them up on this offer except Trump, whose spokesperson told Quartz today that the campaign has not reached an agreement with the RNC. A committee spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

On the Democratic side, the two leading candidates—former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and senator Bernie Sanders—have purchased voter information from the Iowa and New Hampshire state Democratic parties, the two states with the earliest primary elections. Both campaigns also have contracts with NGP VAN, a firm that maintains voter databases for Democratic campaigns.

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Trump's campaign says it has 10 staffers on the ground in Iowa and seven working in New Hampshire, but it isn't clear how they are organizing their effort. While some aspects of Trump's untraditional campaign—like running without a pollster or media consultants—speak to his unvarnished message and outsider appeal, a failure to do the basic blocking and tackling of finding voters may be a problem.

"Flouting the rules and doing things the unconventional way has been Trump's trademark so far in the campaign, but eventually this catches up to you," Ruffini said. "Just think back to Newt Gingrich (and every other candidate save for Mitt Romney and Ron Paul) failing to qualify for the ballot in Virginia [in the 2012 presidential primary.] Eventually, the nomination battle becomes a state-by-state war for delegates, and that starts with being able to target voters."

Even if Trump's lack of a voter file hurts him in Iowa, it may not spell the end of his campaign. Arizona Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney handily sewed up the GOP nominations in 2008 and 2012, respectively, despite surprising losses in the Iowa caucuses to the one-time Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who both deployed a network of well-organized evangelical voters.

Ultimately, no amount of organization can win the nomination for an unpopular candidate—and Trump, voter file or no, has popularity to spare.

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