Boots On The Ground

Crossposted as a forum topic at Blue Force a site dedicated to supporting the Fighting Dems and discussing national security from a progressive perspective. Though this is specifically about activity surrounding the Fighting Dem campaigns, I think it is applicable to any other issue based campaign.

Today as I left my apartment I decided to change the month on the calendar that hangs on my kitchen wall. As I detached it and flipped through the pages I was reminded of just how short we are on time leading up to this year's elections- about 9 months- and I began to think about our chances of winning in the upcoming election.

I think that we have a great shot at making substantial gains in the U.S. House, and a big part of that is that we have so many amazing Security/Fighting Democrats who have decided to serve their nation. These candidates help refute the notion that Democrats are weak (on security and otherwise), many of them have very compelling stories to tell, and  all of the ones that I have had the pleasure of meeting or communicating with have been incredible people in general. These candidates will be aided by the fact that the GOP is in the throws of a couple of crises, that Americans seem anxious for a change in the direction that our nation is heading in, and they hopefully won't have too much trouble raising money given the attention that their campaigns have justly received.

However, our victory is not a forgone conclusion, not by a long shot. I don't give a damned what any poll says at this point, all Democrats, and the Security/Fighting Dems are no different, face a huge uphill battle. But while most people focus on the Democrat's message, or lack thereof, this is not what I believe to be the biggest obstacle to victory for these candidates, though it certainly is an extremely important aspect of the campaigns that we need to work on. What I am most concerned about at this point is what I see to be an almost complete lack of "on-the-ground" strategy and organization that can effectively exploit the advantages that these candidates should, in theory, have in their races.

Let me just say, for the record, that many of the campaigns may have strong ground games of their own, so this should not be seen as a knock against the work that they are doing. However, I believe that individually strong campaigns are insufficient, especially given the limitations put on campaigns by finance laws. What we need--very, very badly--is a nominally non-partisan national organization, or a few regional ones, that can help with the ground activities of the campaigns.

By "on-the-ground" activities, I mean peer-to-peer messaging (P2P- i.e. getting neighbors to talk to other neighbors about the campaign), Get Out The Vote (GOTV) activities, volunteer development and coordination, etc. All of these seem to be totally neglected by progressive organizations and campaigns. For example, most campaigns seem to be raising money for big ad buys, when P2P messaging is both more cost effective and much more persuasive than any ad campaign. I'll have to dig up all of the research on this (this is what my Master's thesis revolved around), but here's a good quote from Prof. Alan S. Gerber of Yale, who researched various techniques for increasing voter turnout amongst young people:

"For young voters, nonpartisan contact represents a bridge to electoral participation," Professors Green and Gerber explain in their report. "They sense that the election is important, but many regard themselves as spectators. They need the authentic encouragement of a peer to become a participant. Evidently, nonpartisan GOTV campaigns provide a link between young voters and the electoral system."

As the full research article notes:
In five of six sites, actual contact with a canvasser increased turnout among all age groups by an average of 10.9 percentage-points. It had negligible effects in the other site.

As this quote points out, it isn't just young people who turn out more frequently when a campaign reaches out to them in person. And though 11% may not seem like a large number, it can make or break a campaign, especially in a mid-term election when there isn't as much media attention on a campaign.
The study also notes a few other interesting findings, most of which I have seen repeated in other studies and research:

  • Among voters 25 and under, face-to-face canvassing had slightly stronger effects.

  • Face-to-face canvassing produced "spillover" effects. Other registered voters living at the same address with voters in the treatment group voted at significantly higher rates than adults living with voters in the control group. In the five cities where face-to-face canvassing proved effective, voter turnout increased by 5.7 percentage-points in households that were contacted by canvassers.

  • Since canvassers were able to make contact with voters in only a small minority of the housing units they visited, the direct effect of canvassing, ignoring spillover effects, was to raise turnout by at least 2.1 percentage-points among voters 25 and under. This figure could be greatly increased by more intensive canvassing.

  • Appeals that were coupled with issue advocacy were slightly more effective in getting voters to the polls than straight GOTV messages. Providing voters with voter guides had no discernible influence on turnout.

  • Raising turnout among 100,000 eligible voters by 3 percentage-points costs approximately $45,000, assuming that canvassers cost $10 per hour, contact 8 voters per hour, and mobilize one additional voter per 12 contacts.

As we can see, not only is face to face contact extremely effective, it is also, by far, the cheapest form of campaign messaging. I'm not sure exactly how much ads cost, but there's just no way that an ad campaign can give you returns on the order of an additional voter for each $15 spent.

We can also see that it's more effective to have an issue based campaign contact voters than it is to have a candidate campaign do the contact on a straight GOTV basis. And with campaign finance laws the way that they are it is more effective to have issue campaigns do the outreach than it is to have the campaigns themselves do the work.

Luckily, the Security/Fighting Dem meme is an issue which an effective messaging campaign can be organized. However, at present it doesn't seem that any of the campaigns that have sprung up around the issue will be working on a ground campaign.

So far, three official campaigns have launched that are going to work around the issue of Security/Fighting Democrats- Band of Brothers PAC, VetPAC, and IAVA PAC (there are a few others, but these seem like the most well formed of them). However, none of these currently seems designed to do the ground work that can swing these elections.

For example, IAVA PAC's mission is:


*    Providing their campaigns with early candidate training, financing, messaging, web and field training from the top professionals in the field
*    Fostering policy and message unity regarding U.S. foreign and military policy
*    Making direct contributions and independent expenditures to benefit their campaigns
*    Ensuring current members of Congress are held accountable for their votes on Iraq and Veterans' issues by taking them to task for votes and positions that harm America, and its troops and Veterans.
*    Providing the credibility and support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans community. An attack on an individual is an attack on us all. We are united in supporting our fellow veterans.

While Band of Brothers PAC's mission states:
This year, Band of Brothers will raise three million dollars to promote the message that America needs the voice of Democratic veterans in Congress. Our campaign will air national media spots designed to educate viewers on problems affecting both the veteran community and America as a whole -- issues like national security, health care, and respectful, responsible use of our military.
Band of Brothers will recruit, train, and elect a new generation of veterans who can help return the Democrats to the majority in the House of Representatives.
I don't want to make it seem like we don't need to buy national ad time around this issue--we do--but if some organization doesn't take the lead on ground operations around these campaigns then we will miss a golden opportunity to make big gains in the Congress. We have a window of opportunity in the upcoming election to change the direction our country is headed in, but unless we get organized and do the hard work on the ground that it takes to win, that window may close and our nation will continue to head in the wrong direction.

Tags: Band of Brothers PAC, Fighting Dems, GOTV, IAVA PAC, issues, National Security, VetPAC, voting issues, Wedge Issue (all tags)

Comments

1 Comment

Re: Boots On The Ground

I appreciate Alex taking Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America PAC to task for not specifying what, if anything, we plan to do in the field. While the first priority is to raise money (we launched just last Thursday- www.iavapac.org) I am confident we will, and anticipate considerable independent expenditures on face-to-face and peer to peer interactions on the ground. As Alex shows above, Gerber and Greene demonsrate the power of these methods on voters under 25, estimating a 10.9% increase. Another intersting metric they use in their evaluation is an estimate of the increase in turnout adjusted to encompass what they call the "spillover effect", the probablitlity that the contact or attempt at contact with a targeted voter will yield other contacts within the household. The authors estimate a 19% increase in turnout when this is taken into account. I studied Gerber, Greene and Friedrichs very closely in designing the VoteMob and Downtown for Democracy efforts I led in Ohio in '04 and found this spillover effect to be prevalent. When the peer to peer contact happens in a social environment, in addition to at the door, I believe this effect is amplified. In Ohio, my most successful program was executed in the precincts surrounding OSU in Columbus. Peer to peer was the primary tactic, with all contacts collected through face to face interactions in bars, clubs, schools and at their doors. We followed up incessantly through various means of communication- landlines, cell phones, text messages, and email. Turnout increased in the Columbus precincts by 180% overall, and the Democratic candidate increased their margin by 7.8%. It is my belief that the same results can be achieved turning out young voters for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans because these troops returning home are our peers and we all empathize with them and respect them. I also believe the same principals can be applied to other peer groups, like Veterans. Thanks- Evan Hutchison Political Director Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America PAC evan@iavapac.org

by guero 2006-02-02 04:44PM | 0 recs

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