‘If we get it right…’: Dems’ new organizing strategy catches fire ahead of midterms

Conversations with friends, family or neighbors are more likely to win a voter’s support than chatting with a stranger at their front door, which is the traditional way campaigns have organized paid canvassing programs in the past. And an important test case for rolling out the strategy at scale came out of the Georgia Senate runoff in 2021, when he was now a senator. Jon Ossoff(D-Ga.’s) campaign, filled with nearly unlimited money but only two months to spend it, used a paid and volunteer outreach program to get people talking about the election to acquaintances rather than strangers.

In particular, Ossoff’s team hired 2,800 Georgians, specifically targeting those with little or no voting history themselves to do this outreach to their own networks. The campaign was betting that many of the friends and family of their highly political volunteers were already engaged in the run-off election, but that this group could broaden the electorate with relational reach in their networks – which were likely to include more irregular voters or non-voters like them. The campaign fed this data into its extensive outreach program, tracking conversations and reporting whether those contacted had voted. They could even notify organizers, based on their own network, which voters have been labeled as “only reachable by you”.

Post-election analysis found that their efforts boosted turnout by about 3.8% among the 160,000 voters targeted by their outreach program. Ossoff and now-Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) Won 1.2 points and 2.1 points, respectively, toppling the state and Senate to Democrats.

Now the two women behind that effort — Davis Leonard and Zoe Stein, who are teaming up with Greta Carnes, the former national director of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign organization — are working together to export the relational organization, both paid and voluntary, towards a host. campaigns and Democratic groups ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

The Progressive Turnout Project, another canvassing group, is investing $1 million in a paid relationship program in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada — the top battleground states this fall. Red Wine and Blue, a group focused on organizing suburban moms, also works with them on a volunteer outreach program.

The Texas Democratic Party is rolling out a statewide volunteer connections program called Connect Texas, giving every county party in the state access to these tools. They also run a small paid relationship program. And in partnership with PDI, a progressive tech company, they’re also launching an app that lets campaigns and committees use relationship organizing for voter registration — a tool that lets volunteers or paid organizers check if their family and friends are registered to vote, then help them register. It’s also customized for states that require voters to physically send in their absentee ballot applications, such as Texas.

“Countries are the last door-to-door sellers. No one is trying to sell you knives on your doorstep anymore, we use the Instagram sharing codes of the people we follow,” said Carnes, who joined Leonard and Stein as a partner at Relentless, the company of relational organization that the latter two co-founded. “If we do that right in a few big places in 2022, like what they were able to show with Ossoff, then I think we can expect to see a lot more relationship programs in 2024 and 2026.”

Relationship organizing itself is not new, with a long history in community organizing movements. But integrating it as a central element of a political campaign is new. And reaching voters, especially less likely voters, through trusted communicators is an especially important goal for Democrats this year as the party faces a difficult medium-term climate and a serious lack of enthusiasm.

The push also comes from finding that some traditional organizing tactics haven’t worked as well during the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer volunteers willing to work in person and the era of spam calls pushing people to text unknown numbers. to their voicemails.

“We know that traditional, cold-blooded methods of contacting voters have a ceiling to their effectiveness,” Leonard said, referring to door-to-door and telephone banking.

“And we know that peer-to-peer conversations work,” added Stein.

Relational organizing requires a lot of back-end operational force from campaigns — tracking volunteer conversations, storing that data in a usable infrastructure, and adapting it to a statewide run. It’s much more complicated than counting the number of doors a volunteer has knocked on.

But Ossoff’s campaign showed it was possible, Stein and Leonard argue. They built this technology and this infrastructure, much of which they presented in medium posts, an unusually clear look into the guts of campaign work that is often treated as state secrets. The Ossoff campaign hired at least one organizer in all 159 counties in Georgia, facilitating more than 17,000 personal contacts with voters in the two days leading up to the election.

“What the team did with Ossoff in Georgia on the paid relationship is a rarity in politics – a powerful new tactic that could affect tight races statewide,” said Ben Wikler, party chairman. Democrat from Wisconsin, who runs her own volunteer connections program. . “The biggest challenge for relational organizing has always been how to scale. The impact per voter reached is high, but getting enough voters to change election results has been extremely difficult. But a relationship remunerated [program] I have a way to significantly increase the size.

Ossoff’s campaign manager Ellen Foster said “the math is there” to show the paid relationship program “made a difference” to their win.

She also credited Ossoff himself for the campaign’s focus on relational organizing. When the candidate ran in a costly congressional special election in 2017, regular or semi-trusted voters “were hammered” by paid communications and voter contact campaigns, Foster said. But “what has kept [Ossoff] waking up at night was how to attract voters who had no voting history and get them in.

“People are always trying to find more direct ways to communicate [with voters]and that’s on the table now,” Foster added.

In 2021, the Progressive Turnout Project launched its own paid connection program in Hampton Roads, Va., finding that voters contacted by their paid organizers turned out at a 9.2% higher rate than the general population in that area. region. In 2022, PTP plans to spend $1 million on a paid relationship program in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, “and possibly much more,” said Melissa Gallahan, national director of relationship organization at PTP.

“These trusted messengers are key to getting Democrats to vote,” she said, “because we’re trying to meet voters where they are.”


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