Voters are doing it in their living rooms with people they've never met before

bumped - Matt

If the fundamental nature of political campaigning is turned on its head, and no journalist reports it, then does it really happen?

The following represents as big of a transformation as the arrival of TV in politics half a century ago: This weekend, an army of more than 100,000 ordinary voters, spread across every state in the nation, will work together as single disciplined team as they conduct a sophisticated GOTV operation to reach "drop off" Democratic voters in competitive House and Senate races.

MoveOn.org's "Call for Change" program (motto: "It's too close NOT to call") provides its volunteers the same kind of high-tech online console that tele-marketers use to contact micro-targeted voters as report in results. The difference is that these volunteers actually believe in what they're saying, and therefore connect with voters in a way that paid tele-marketers can never. As anger peeks at cynical and negative  campaigning, putting voters directly in touch with other voters is a brilliant strategy -- one made possible only recently by new technology and new organizing techniques.

Any individual with an Internet connection can use the MoveOn system to make calls alone. But tens of thousands of volunteers have exponentially scaled up the program by holding "call parties" at their homes. Go to MoveOn's site and search your zip code -- there are parties near you. Each one is hosted by an unpaid volunteer, working with little or no in-person support from organizers. Hosts furnish their guests with snacks, voter lists, instructions and moral support. Many attendees, having been shown the ropes, then go host their own party the next week.

I reached a handful of these party hosts last night to find out what makes them tick. I started getting a picture of a vast network of local leaders scooping up volunteer energy in their neighborhoods that has for so long gone untapped.

Consider Maria in Coatsville, Pennsylavania: "I've been making calls for the last three months starting with the Busby race in California -- I try to do it at least once week. I've been having parties for some weeks now -- because I got myself over this hump and started making calls myself, and now I think it's important to help others to do that -- to show others how to make the calls, and that it can even be fun."

Does she get nervous about strangers coming over? "Oh yes, I tend to be a little bit anxious each time -- I hope they're normal people, you know? But each time, I relaxed as soon as the first walked in. Each time they were wonderful people."

Part of the beauty of this program is that the events can be any size: Maria said she usually just gets two or three people. "Once it was just me. Which was fine -- I ate the food I prepared and made my calls just the same as I do every week." Even just the small parties like Maria's -- because there are thousands of them -- add up to a massive GOTV phone bank. It's an elastic model that accommodates any situation -- there can never be an "empty" event because every organizer is also a worker. There is simply a continuum of events from those having one attendee up to those having hundreds and everything in between -- all adding up to a single, coordinated, powerful GOTV operation.

Jerilynn, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is going all-out to build up attendance for her party this weekend. She and her husband are heading off any possible "awkwardness" of a room full of strangers by making a game out of the phone calling to break the ice, increase productivity and make the evening fun for all involved. She calls the suburbs around Philly the "Ring of Fire" -- a nickname she and other MoveOn volunteers made up in 2004 because they were striving to ignite enough volunteer activity to deliver the vote for Kerry. Now, she's working with many of those same volunteers from 2004 to drive Call for Change. "In 2004, I'd bring along friends to do door knocking with me. I showed them that it was easy and could make a difference. Now some of them are holding their own Call for Change parties. Maybe in '04 I inspired them, but now they are inspiring me and keeping me going."

Before MoveOn popularized this decentralized-yet-disciplined model of organizing, many in politics simply couldn't believe that anyone would open their home via the Internet to strangers, or attend an event at an unknown person's home. Many traditional campaigners were convinced that "Internet people" were wackos, and in any case had never seen structured and effective volunteer work happen without a paid organizer holding hands and pushing people. It will still be a while before this model is internalized in the campaign world.

In the 2004 cycle, several variations of the model were tried by MoveOn -- as well as other groups and the Dean, Kerry and Bush presidential campaigns -- but the refinement and massive scalability of the Call for Change program now represents a revolution in how campaigning is done.

Yet journalists have barely noticed. Why is that? Journalists enthusiastically cover certain new trends in campaigning, such as blogging, micro-targeting and the use of YouTube -- to name a few. Maybe field organizing and campaign volunteering are just not glamorous enough. But do the math: hundreds of thousands of callers, making millions of calls -- all into just a handful of districts where mere thousands of votes will decide outcomes.

Glamorous or not, what could be more exciting and newsworthy than the voters themselves standing up to take control of politics? And doing it all in their own living rooms with people they don't even know?

Tags: 2006, Call for Change, GOTV, moveon.org (all tags)

Comments

22 Comments

Re: Voters are doing it in their living rooms with

I did have two sessions on two Saturdays. It's a very sophisticated operation. The caller is given a link set up for them with online tools that give them an opportunity to practice, to get background info on the candidates and races you're calling on. There is a script set up to follow and a menu to check based on the responses you get. Great operation!

by cmpnwtr 2006-11-02 08:34AM | 0 recs
It's Great! Has there been any fraud?

I love the system!  Intuitive, simple, direct, effective, etc...  In fact, it was almost too simple.  Do we know of any fraud on the system?  Are there a bunch of GOPer posing as progressives and "crank calling" our voters?

by smeyers 2006-11-02 08:53AM | 0 recs
Re: It's Great! Has there been any fraud?

It wouldn't surprise me, but I don't know if they can hold back the tide.

by beemer 2006-11-02 09:05AM | 0 recs
Let 'em

Honestly, if you have an hour of time which do you think is more effective- encouraging potential supporters or somehow discouraging potential opponents?  Supporters just need to be reminded to go to the polls- in the amount of time it takes to trick one opponent you could call 3 supporters.

by Preston 2006-11-02 10:19AM | 0 recs
Changing the fundamentals

Great post Zack.  It speaks to fundamental and transformational changes underway.  Until recently, most of my experience with harnessing the power of technology to a "change movement" has been with organizations aimed at changing the world from the inside out, one person at a time.

Though politics is mainly about changing the macro-level systems, it's heartening to hear the stories you recount, about the power of smartly-used technologies coupled with an inspired sense of community, even among people who don't know each other.  A wise person once told me that, in such situations, 1+1 can =11.  Your post highlights a potent example of that.

If nothing else useful (and I can't think of anything offhand), George Bush and co. have helped inspire this kind of movement, by reminding us how important it is that we don't go in the direction he favors, but instead make ongoing, determined and cooperative efforts to move in the opposite direction...both on the outside and on the inside.

by mitchipd 2006-11-02 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Voters are doing it in their living rooms

Funny how the comments on this version of the diary are so much more substantive than the ones on Kos.  The guy responding on Kos only wanted to talk about sexual double entendres.

by wildcat7 2006-11-02 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Voters are doing it in their living rooms with

I just finished making about 40 calls. It was remarkably easy and most of all rewarding. You know we sit at our keyboards and talk amongst our selves. We share info, rant, debate, lurk and lecture each other!Well finally I was able to reach out to  real people(not that you're not real), and real undecides and do my best to persuade them to Vote and vote for our guy! Man! I actually made a real impact on two maybe three voters. Listen guys it's like mining for gold! The effort is woth it. Want to feel good about yourself? Make the calls!

by eddieb 2006-11-02 09:30AM | 0 recs
Re: doing it in their living rooms

love this system--flexible, simple, zero barriers to entry.

even if you just have five minutes at your desk, you can click the link they send you, make a few calls following the simple two-question script, and click the buttons indicating responses.  

what better way to do voter ID?  

i hope DNC, DCCC, MoveOn, et al. will coordinate and use this or a similar system as the one primary centralized voter ID data, so we can minimize redundant calling (and voter annoyance) in the future.  this is a huge leap forward, and the only way it could get much better is if more Dem. groups use it.  

bravo!  

by chiefscribe 2006-11-02 10:11AM | 0 recs
MoveOn's Reputation

Zach-
One question I have is whether it's a good idea to have MoveOn so explicitly mentioned in the calls.  Even though the calls are targeted to potential progressives there is no small number of moderates and conservatives that will be accidentally called and have bad opinions of MoveOn thanks to Rush and company.  

I'm afraid callers are missing a chance to speak to people who might actually listen to an attack on the Republican candidate if it came from a source they weren't already prejudiced against.

Perhaps in 2008 it will be necessary to start a subsidiary so that we can speak to as many people as possible with out the burden of Limbaugh's slander.

by Preston 2006-11-02 10:26AM | 0 recs
sorry, I mean to write 'Zack'

by Preston 2006-11-02 10:33AM | 0 recs
Re: MoveOn's Reputation

I think nothing will disabuse the doubters faster than a sincere call with a real person; becase we are MoveOn and we are MoveOn's face.  Sure, there are those we will never persuade, but we do no harm when we call them.  And those whose only impression of MoveOn comes from Limbaugh - they need some balance.  There's nothing better than direct contact to provide that.

by carlmanaster 2006-11-03 02:47AM | 0 recs
Re: MoveOn's Reputation

That's a fair point but I wonder if the best time to rehabilitate MoveOn's image is 5 days before an election.  

Obviously, many of the people who think MoveOn is a rabble rousing organization will never vote Democratic but my feeling is that there are some quiet, don't-make-waves moderates that might not want to align themselves with an organization that has been tarred by the right.

by Preston 2006-11-03 07:00AM | 0 recs
Re: MoveOn's Reputation
I don't really know the right answer. But I've just been interviewing more callers - and it sounds like the callees really respond better if they know who the call is coming from. Also - I think that the only people who are really wound up against MoveOn are the right wing press when you get down to reality.
by Zack Exley 2006-11-03 05:31PM | 0 recs
Re: MoveOn's Reputation

I think that the only people who are really wound up against MoveOn are the right wing press when you get down to reality.
I think that's true but if Rush Limbaugh was only speaking to committed Republican voters I don't think he would be much of a threat.  But the fact is that he is a good entertainer and has listeners across the spectrum that are going to absorb at least some of his characterizations.

At least this close to the election I think identifying calls as being from 'Call for Change' is the best idea.  

by Preston 2006-11-03 07:21PM | 0 recs
If I may

I hope you're still looking at this post because I have some concerns about Call for Change's strategy.  I may be wrong but the way it has been described to me is that the initial targeting aimed at a dozen or so districts but as the playing field changed more districts were added to the fold.  I just feel that these added districts do not have very good call lists and calling the callers I have picked up on a lot of dissatisfaction from the low return on effort.

I did a number of calls for ACT in 2004 and I tend to agree with the complaints.  Maybe it would be better to hammer the districts that perhaps have had more advance work done: not only would this avoid the risk of spreading the effort too thin but would keep the payoff on the calls to a level high enough to not turn off volunteers.

I don't know- just my 2 cents.

by Preston 2006-11-03 07:30PM | 0 recs
Join the PA Effort

Please consider joining a similar program that is focusing on likely progressive, likely unmarried women in two counties in PA:  Bucks and Chester.

We need to burn through roughly 25,000 names in the next few days to free up volunteers to get on the doors, which is the second part of our three-part plan. (calls, doors, direct mail)  

Details are here.

On Election Day, Chester and Bucks County voters will have three of the best opportunities to send a clear message to the BushCo regime that we have had enough.  But to do that, we need to get likely progressive women to the polls.  

You can start phoning for us, from your home today.  Please do.

by eRobin 2006-11-02 11:32AM | 0 recs
Addendum

I forgot:

To the point of this post - CNN sent Dana Bash to our operation in Bucks County (PA Action) to see exactly how we are using web-based predicitive dialing similar to Move On's program, to get out the vote.  I was the person who showed Bash how the system works - I made a few calls while she watched.  She saw the system work with remote calls.  She was interested in all of it and asked good questions.  The final report didn't make any mention that I saw of any of that.  Go figure.

But let's be fair - I've been pitching this project for over a week via personal emails to nearly every big  the value of the campaign.  I've posted about it on dKos, here and at Booman.  So far only a very few bloggers have picked it up and nobody from the Internets has picked up a phone to call from home.  Why is that?  

by eRobin 2006-11-02 11:38AM | 0 recs
I think it's good that the media doesn't cover it

Let the GOP find out on Election Day. Surprise!

Point two: Mentioning Moveon.org is good for moveon.org in the long run. And there is little tactical alternative to saying who the hell is calling.

If asked who Moveon.org is, two good poll-tested responses would be, we are the non-profit organization founded to defend Bill Clinton against impeachment and devoted to defending Michael J. Fox against Rush Limbaugh's lies.

by stevehigh 2006-11-02 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Voters are doing it in their living rooms with

We're even doing here in Utah. =)

by grokgov 2006-11-02 12:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Voters are doing it in their living rooms with

I'm doing it on the couch, watching Keith Olbermann, in the lovely state of KENTUCKY!!!!

by gregariousred 2006-11-02 03:19PM | 0 recs
Excellent!

Zack-
I see that the call script has been updated.  FWIW I think it looks great and I think it will be a lot more effective.  

Thanks for all your work!

by Preston 2006-11-03 12:48PM | 0 recs
by habibi 2008-02-28 06:52PM | 0 recs

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