Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats turning out Republican votes?

Bumped b/c it's time the blogosphere begin to focus on organizing problems instead of just our obsession with message. I'm starting a new tag 'field'. Please tag your posts on this topic with 'field'. - Matt

Crossposted at Future Majority

Last week my co-blogger at Future Majority, Music for America founder Mike Connery, pointed to a new publication released by CIRCLE and Young Voter Strategies. The paper that they released, titled What Works: Getting Young Voters to the Polls (PDF). When I first read the study I was pretty focused on the parts having to do with the value of face-to-face/personalized contact, the cost effective nature of youth outreach, as well as the finding that when it comes to getting young people to the polls, the medium is more important then the message (in other words, contacting voters increases voting equally, no matter what the message is). Yesterday I was reading the blog of Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE, and while reading his post which discusses the Young Voter Guide I found this passage:

3. Despite repeated efforts to find more effective messages, it appears that the medium matters, not the message. For example, if you organize a phone bank, it doesn't matter whether your callers use positive or negative scripts, simply provide information, or invoke civic duty. I find this a strange result, because calling someone is a communicative act, and I would think that what is communicated would matter. But perhaps the very fact that people are contacted makes them feel valued and encourages them to vote.
I asked Peter to clarify whether any of these studies also looked at how people vote, and he responded that the measure that these studies used was voting, and voting only. None of these studies looked at either how the message or messengers effected the way that the people who got to the polls voted. This has important implications for outreach campaigns, and may indicate why the efforts of America Coming Together and the other big outreach groups failed to lead to a Democratic victory in 2006. It also ads some ammunition to the controversy brewing over the horrendous behavior of PIRG clone Grassroots Campaign, Inc. and the other for-profit "progressive" human resource firms. How so? Find out after the jump...

For as long as I can remember the election strategy of Democrats was simple- if get people to the polls and Democrats will win. This strategy assumed that the only thing that kept Democrats from winning was turnout, but the elections of 2004 showed the fallacy behind the strategy. As conservative pundit Byron York noted on his post-mortem of ACT:

A few days after the 2004 election, America Coming Together, the giant pro-Democratic voter turnout group that had raised about $200 million from George Soros, Peter Lewis, and a variety of Hollywood moguls, released a list of its accomplishments. Obviously, ACT, as big as it was, had not put John Kerry over the top, but the group had "held conversations at 4.6 million doorsteps about the truth about the Iraq war, about the state of our healthcare system, about the economy." It had registered half-a-million new voters. In the last days of the campaign it had made 23 million phone calls, sent out 16 million pieces of mail, and delivered 11 million fliers. And on top of it all, it had "launched the largest get-out-the-vote effort the Democratic Party has ever seen," turning out "unprecedented levels of voters in the battleground states."
But, as we all know, this didn't lead to a progressive victory at the polls. In fact, I would guess that some of this outreach hurt Democrats. This is because ACT, as with so many other outfits, neglected to fight the other half of the battle- the battle for the hearts and minds of the American Voter. What the CIRCLE research indicates is that, by simply focusing on outreach while neglecting persuasion, Democrats may have actually turned out a good number of people to vote who voted against them.

I doubt anyone looked at who contacted those "Security Moms" that swung the election and how they ended up voting, but I would guess that a good number of them were contacted personally by one progressive group or another and encouraged to vote. This should, according the the literature on voting habits, have increased voting amongst this group by at least 10%. But- what if this group was turned out to vote by Dems, but convinced, through TV ads or, more likely, through personal contact from Republican operatives to vote for George W. Bush? Well, you'd prob. get something that looked like... the 2004 Presidential election.

You see, while Dems are busy trying to simply get people to the polls, the Republicans are focused on GOTV as well as making sure that those people who make it to the polls voted the way that they wanted them to vote. Republicans don't assume that people will vote their way, which is probably a smart move since most Americans disagree with many/most of the stated Republican platforms (hate, greed, ignorance, gluttony, an imperialistic foreign policy, and complete disregard for the environment are not usually great campaign slogans). And so Republicans engage voters on numerous levels and using all the techniques of persuasion they can, to convince voters to vote their way.

As CIRCLE noted, the more personalized the contact with a voter is, the more likely they are to vote, however, as I noted in my thesis, face-to-face persuasion, when done by a person familiar with some of the common persuasive techniques, is highly effective. When it is combined with a coordinated media campaign, the results should be even better (see my thesis section on the Agenda-Setting Effect for more on why this is so). But what happens when only one side effectively employs these techniques? This is really just a guess (based on research/experimentation), but I believe the result of this would be that not only would the side employing face-to-face persuasion techniques be better than the one that didn't, in fact the side that didn't employ these techniques might actually help to turnout voters for the other side.

In less abstract terms, this means is that Democrats, by failing to deploy "ground troops" adequately trained in the science/art of persuasion, may have actually turned out a good number of people to vote Republican in 2004.

This is where GCI and the other "progressive" groups working on "ground operations" come back in. By using methods that lead to large employee turnover, by paying a pittance of a wage (if any) to progressive activists (helping to ensure that the best and most persuasive move into the private sector), and by focusing on donations and registrations while (largely) ignoring persuasion, these groups are not only turning off young activists to the possibility of a life in politics. Depending on the type of operation, these groups may in fact be turning out voters for the very organizations that they purport to oppose.

To me this points to one big idea: if Democrats really want to win they must focus their efforts in two big areas where they currently lack. One of those areas, messaging (as well as Lakoffian "framing"), has received a great amount of attention since the last election. But looking at the bleak activist landscape in PA right now I can tell you for certain that the other piece of the puzzle- deploying professional persuasive activists in the field- isn't even on the radar.

Tags: CIRCLE, field, GOTV, Youth Voting (all tags)

Comments

61 Comments

Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I don't know about ACT, but in MoveOn's Leave No Voter Behind 2004 gotv, we focused pretty exclusively on "1"s, strong kerry supporters. In fact, I agree that we should have been targeting 2s, and even 3s, but I don't see how we could have accidentally turned out any Republicans.

On the other hand, there are non-partisan GOTV efforts that might not target as much, but it's hard to tell anyone not to do generalized GOTV, right?

by esteban 2006-09-15 11:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I always did want to know more about the value of those 2s. It seemed to me like people who are "leaning" to the candidate are more important than the ones who already are certain that they are going to vote for the candidate...not only can they be persuaded, but if they're unsure that probably means they are less likely to vote as well. Right? In LNVB 2004, we totally dropped the leaners, to say nothing of the "undecideds" -- the reason being that if we want to turn out people, we should focus first on the ones who we know are going to vote for us. I don't know if that holds up. Anyone out there who can weigh in on that?

by hoboninja 2006-09-15 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

ACT was all over the place.

Also, unless you can show me that all of those "1s" ended up voting for Kerry, then I don't think it's a given that those 1s voted for Kerry. And anyway, if a person says "I will definitely vote for Kerry" then why would it make sense to target that person at all (other than making sure they remember to vote)?

by Alex Urevick 2006-09-15 11:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

If you have someone who says they support John Kerry, the best thing you can do is make sure that person votes.  You know he's going to vote for Kerry, all you need to do is get him to the polls to make sure he actually does it.

by Fran for Dean 2006-09-16 01:24PM | 0 recs
ACT and other 527's could not coordinate

ACT and other 527's were forbidden from coordinating by McCain Feingold in the 2004 election.

They could discuss issues or they could ask voters who they were going to vote for, but they could not carry that very message of persuasion that you and I both think are important.  They could not carry a explicit Democratic message---vote for John Kerry and here's why.  Because that would be illegal campaign coordination.

Nor could the ads of 527's coordiante with the party.  So when the Swift boat Vets Ads ran, the Victory Fund had money to defend him but no information to defend him with because they were not allowed to talk to the Kerry campaign or the party.

So how come Repubs could do it?  Because the Repubs had enough money within all their party committees and an extra 20 years of accumulating extra money with which they built infrastructure like voter lists and microtargeting---do all these activities within the party structure and so they could coordinate thier message, targeting, persuasion and GOTV.

People need to start donating directly to the DNC now in this campaign and not just to individual candidates so that the DNC can build that infrastructure for now and tomorrow.  One of them is the persuasion part.

Anecdote-slightly off point but telling.  My daughter ran Palm Beach County for the Kerry campaign.  There were 2 hurricanes.  Lots of polling site changes as a result.  Emily's LIst did not have the latest revised list and they were putting wrong info  on door handles telling people to go to the wrong pollsites.  Dem/Kerry volunteers tried to get them off the doors but no one could just simply call Emily's List to tell the to stop it or give them better lists because you are not allowed to coordinate.

I have always thought McCain Feingold was bad law and particularly bad for the Democratic party.

by debcoop 2006-09-16 10:44PM | 0 recs
Re: ACT and other 527's could not coordinate

I have always thought McCain Feingold was bad law and particularly bad for the Democratic party.

me too

by Alice Marshall 2006-09-17 05:45AM | 0 recs
This should be added to the above post.

It's that important.

by MNPundit 2006-09-17 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: ACT and other 527's could not coordinate

They could discuss issues or they could ask voters who they were going to vote for, but they could not carry that very message of persuasion that you and I both think are important.  They could not carry a explicit Democratic message---vote for John Kerry and here's why.  Because that would be illegal campaign coordination.

I think your conflating things a bit here. Some 527s could, and did, use persuasive issue based messaging that pushed the progressive brand while stopping just shy of endorsing Kerry or any other candidate. I believe that with many groups, explicitly partisan messages are less persuasive, since it's more likely the message will be perceived as biased (according to the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion).

For example, I think that the messaging of Music for America, at the time a 527, was pretty damned persuasive in 2004. Sure, we didn't say "vote Kerry" but we talked about those aspects of politics that effect our generation the most (health care, racism, the drug war, education, foreign policy, etc). The messaging that MFA used was also presented in a way that both the volunteers and the concert goers we talked to could understand and relate to, in a context where it would be well received (at a concert the person had chosen to attend), and I'm pretty sure that using this technique we were able to convince a good number of kids to vote for Dems. I doubt that a more party-based message would have been as effective, as most kids are pretty cynical about politics and politicians.

So how come Repubs could do it?  Because the Repubs had enough money within all their party committees and an extra 20 years of accumulating extra money with which they built infrastructure like voter lists and microtargeting---do all these activities within the party structure and so they could coordinate thier message, targeting, persuasion and GOTV.
Well, they do a lot of things better than we do. For the purposes of this post, the most important are, in my eyes: the lack of training/fostering of hardcore activists who are connected to the overall movement but who work within a variety of campaigns and the lack of interest in fighting a battle for the hearts and minds of Americans (after all, should those people already know that Dems are better?).

I don't think that the Republican advantage stems from their party, it stems from their long-term poltical investments (most of which is not done through the party), and from the fact that it is part of a broader movement. Dems and many of the left-aligned groups are generally out of touch with the people whom they supposedly serve, and I'm not sure that investing in the DNC is going to change that

See Greg Bloom's posts on the DNCs use of Grassroots Campaigns, Inc for their field work, apropriately titled strip mining the grassroots, for a good reason to believe that the DNC is still not part of the progressive movement (because they are turning off young activists to politics rather than fostering and nurturing them).

by Alex Urevick 2006-09-17 06:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

My impression was that ACT and MoveOn both focused exclusively on "1"s. Several problems with this: someone may have told a canvasser in July or August or even September, "I'm for Kerry," and then changed his or her mind by election day. In this case, ACT or MoveOn could have indeed inspired someone to register who otherwise would not have voted, only to have that person vote for the other side.

This is an old debate about whether Dem GOTV turns out votes for the GOP. I volunteered for an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1994. At that time an old hand told me about how Dem GOTV had turned out votes for Reagan.

by desmoinesdem 2006-09-16 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I was an organizer with MoveOn PAC's GOTV operation. The MoveOn strategy was indeed focused exclusively on 1's. The first round of canvassing was intended to ID voters. During the main push of the final weekend and E-day, volunteers contacted only 1's. In some heavily Dem precincts (80+% Kerry) we did blanket turnout on election day as well. There are good reasons to criticize MoveOn/GCI's turnout project, but turning out Bush voters isn't one of them.

My impression was the ACT focused on turning out 1's as well, but I'm not very familiar personally with their operation.

by bschak 2006-09-17 08:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

One big-picture advantage that Democrats enjoy is that they can focus exclusively on GOTV in certain areas where literally everyone who votes is going to vote Democratic.

Even heavily Republican areas, by contrast, tend to be more like 70% R, 30% D.  So if Republicans do raw GOTV in these areas, their net gain isn't as great.

This is not to detract from your larger point, which is well stated.

by Steve M 2006-09-15 11:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I disagree with any notion that the Democrats should focus their efforts only in heavily Democratic areas:  cutting the Republican margin in the suburbs, small towns, and rural areas by only about four percent would hand us quite a few elections.  We do more for Democratic candidates, and broaden the competitive terrain, by carrying the war to "their" turf.

by InigoMontoya 2006-09-15 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

by little brudda 2006-09-15 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

You're missing one very big fact: most people are simply not that politically aware/astute to be purely partisan in one way or another. It's hard for those of us who eat, sleep, and breath politics to realize this, but it is a well documented fact that most people don't have a clue about politics, and therefore can be persuaded by a strong message/messenger combo (see: Paul Hackett)

by Alex Urevick 2006-09-15 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

It's hard for those of us who eat, sleep, and breath politics to realize this, but it is a well documented fact that most people don't have a clue about politics, and therefore can be persuaded by a strong message/messenger combo

Actually, I think this is just the problem. People may come around on this as the consequences show up at their doors. But they are in dire need of a little political sophistication. Maybe we need to be informing them on a continual basis, instead of only trying to wake them up for the elections.

by blues 2006-09-15 01:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

You hit the nail on the head. And this is the (slight) quibble I have with the thesis of this post. I think the problem of persuasion is not that people aren't trained in it, it's that the ACT people were forbidden to do it. They were a 527 so they could not say "Vote for Kerry". Right?

If the local Democratic parties had been doing all of this canvassing and phone banking, then the persuasion would have come naturally. You just refute GOP talking points, and tell people why they should vote Democratic.

And as for continually informing people, I cannot agree more. Once again, this is why you need a strongly organized Democratic Party from the top down. The whole point of having Precinct Committee Officers is so that the party has a local presence in every community in the country. Now, the party has been dead in many many areas for many many years so that continual, or even periodic contact with a representative of the Democratic Party has vanished. How many people here have ever been contacted at the door or on the phone by their PCO? So to persuade voters, promote our message, and get people to polls to vote Democratic, we must focus on organizing every precinct in this country. We need this party organized from the precinct all the way up to the DNC.

This is the difference between our burning money stratedgy of turnout, and the republicans vaunted 72 hour program. They are centralized and organized. We are not. What's that old union saying? "Organize Organize Organize"

 

by adamterando 2006-09-16 06:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I agree, and aren;t they making the same mistake this time around with those big donors giving to harold ickes and martin Frost and other 527 groups to do GOTV instead of gioving to the DNC because of some petty problem with Howard Dean?  

The Dems need to have the same kind of party-centralized operation instead of always leaving it to 527's and candidate organizations who then wo't /can't share info.

by Mimikatz 2006-09-17 09:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Yeah I think part of the problem is that Ickes and the like are going after people that can write a check for a million bucks. I believe the most the DNC can take from an individual in an election cycle is somewhere around $25,000 because of McCain-Feingold. I'm actually fine with that. But what I really think needs to be done is a massive effort to get people to become official party members that require monthly contributions of at least $10. Then get 1 or 2 million members signed up so we have a steady stream of income that can surpass the GOP.

The official membership will probably never happen, but we still need to get more people to give monthly.

These guys have done an amazing job at organizing from the ground up. AND, they voted to become a dues paying party.

It's kind of like unions, when you pay dues you can do a lot more things, and lots of times you get a more activist membership.

by adamterando 2006-09-17 01:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Dean and the DNC have made it very clear that they are investing in the 50 state project, not in targeted 2006 races. The 50 state project is a long term investment by the party, it is not expected to pay off before the 2008 cycle. The most the DNC is willing to put into 2006 is the $12 million they promised last week. The RNC has budgeted $30 million for just the 72 hour project.

Big donors asked to see a field plan for 2006 from the DNC, and the DNC declined, arguing that it would feed into the short-term mentality rather than long term party building. This is also the source of friction between the DNC and the DCCC, the DNC has declined to dedicate resources to a targeted 2006 GOTV operation, so the DCCC and the DSCC have built their own. Donors who want to help in 2006 are better off donating to candidates, state parties and putting their party money in the DSCC or DCCC.

For really big donors, who are limited to $100k in donations to political committees every two years, it makes sense to give money to 527s, where they are unlimited. People are also overstating the limits on 527s, they cannot coordinate with a candidate and they have to be careful about mentioning names, but they can be partisan and they can do persuasion.

by souvarine 2006-09-17 02:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be working to make people more politically informed, we should. But if you think that you're going to get the vast majority of people to care, or even pay attention to/think about, politics on a regular basis, you are sadly mistaken.

In fact, I think that this points to one of the biggest problems that progressives face in regards to mass persuasion. While we are trying to educate and explain things to people, the Reps are persuading them that we are untrustworthy, flip-flopping, wimps. How are you going to educate someone when you can't persuade them to listen to you?

I also think that we must not think ourselves too good to use straight up persuasion techniques in our campaigns. Taking the high/intellectual route may make us feel better about ourselves, but it does little to help us win, and prob. hurts us pretty badly.

Last- I don't know why education necessarily excludes persuasion. In fact, the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion would suggest that the more you can get someone to think about a subject, the more likely you are to persuade them. This means that education, when done right, is the most persuasive of all the techniques we could use. It is also the most time and labor intensive, and when you look at the scales we're talking about (hundreds of millions of people) you start to see that we could never educate most people. Would you prefer then that we not try to convince them to vote Dem/Progressive?

by Alex Urevick 2006-09-17 07:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

I find that this is part of the York article is worth quoting in full:

The problem was, despite its claims to be reaching more people than ever before, it really did not reach a lot of new people. America Coming Together was not, in fact, America coming together; it might more accurately have been named Traditional Democratic Party Constituencies Coordinating Like Never Before. You could go to any office of ACT and find lots of people from NARAL, or the Service Employees union, or Planned Parenthood. They were the same old groups doing the same old thing, only more so.

Despite all the hype and all the press releases, the effort really wasn't about converting new voters to the Democratic party. Rather, it was about squeezing just a little more juice out of a lemon that had been nearly squeezed dry in the past. Steve Rosenthal's well-regarded successes in previous elections had not involved attracting large numbers of new people to the cause. They involved getting union voters to turn out in ever-greater percentages, even as the percentage of union households in the electorate shrank. The problem was, you could do that for only so long. At some point, every union member or union household member of voting age could turn out and it still wouldn't be enough to elect a Democratic candidate. For that, you had to expand your appeal, and that was something ACT failed to do.

Which, to some extend, does come back to what seems like a hesitancy on the Democrats' behalf to engage in open persuasion (this plays out somewhat differently in the "air" war of ads, but it might be the same neurosis). I'm not totally sure what this means in terms of GOTV strategy though; persuasion takes long-term strategy and sophisticated outreach that just doesn't seem possible even in hardcore GOTV. (but Alex, you haven't yet convinced me that targeted GOTV needs to be reconsidered in light of the possibility that Republicans are turned out. In all of the problems of our GOTV campaign, that was the last one I considered...still, I'm listening!)

by greg bloom 2006-09-15 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

persuasion takes long-term strategy and sophisticated outreach that just doesn't seem possible even in hardcore GOTV.

Why does persuasion take long-term strategy? There is a science to persuasion, and the GOP employs it quite effectively on many different levels.

Why can't those people who are doing the GOTV work for progressive campaigns get trained in persuasion/effective communications? What stands in the way of us deploying more effective outreach people, who can both turn people out to vote, and convince them to vote a certain way?

you haven't yet convinced me that targeted GOTV needs to be reconsidered in light of the possibility that Republicans are turned out

I think the results of targeted GOTV can be seen from in the quote you mentioned, and in the outcome of the election itself. It doesn't work, in the short or long term, and by ignoring half of the battle we are setting ourselves up for constant defeat.

On the subject of targeting, I'd want to add that I am very suspicious of the voting data used by ACT and others to identify likely voters. I have seen a number of voter files in my day, and most of them are far from perfect, to put it mildly.

I'd also like to point out that this isn't just about a GOTV strategy, in fact if it was true that turnout equaled victory then maybe we would just need more GOTV activities. However, we are talking about an overall campaign, and while GOTV should be seen as one aspect of it, ignoring the questions of messages- what the message is, who delivers it, and in what context (as the CIRCLE study noted, the medium is the message).

There is one additional thing that I think we (progressive/liberals) need to come to grips with: not everybody cares about, or pays attention to, politics (something that's hard to come to terms with for those of us who live politics). Since large numbers of people have little knowledge of politics, they will have to be convinced to vote one way or another, when they do in fact vote. Ignoring this large swath of "undecided" voters is another sure way to handicap your efforts.

by Alex Urevick 2006-09-17 05:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle:

The problem with the Gotv in 2004 was not asking. There were large numbers of Democrats that live in Suburban and Rural areas in 2004 that simply didn't vote because they weren't asked to. It was assumed that they would and the party and Act wasted thousands of hours trying to draw out voters from Urban areas while giving the republican free rein in the suburbs while the number of extra urban voters went up in a lot of smaller cities it was not enough to offset the number of extra votes the republicans gained in the Suburban and rural areas. I was in one of those districts in 2004 I ignored the party plan and had 98% democratic turn out and a number of votes for the Kerry edwards ticket greater than the number of registered Democrats. This in a district that is 3 to 1 republican. THe results were better than in 2000 for gore and better than most of the other districts in the same twps. Which were mostly having a decrease in the number of votes. I also a campaign manager in the same county and we ran the districts the same way and the results were the same. It's a matter of 3 things local commitee people using local volunteers to talk to local district voters. Alot of areas are xenophoic to outsiders dragging new yorkers into central pa is usually a bad political move or other actions like that.

by orin76 2006-09-16 11:43AM | 0 recs
independents also weren't asked

I was a precinct captain for Kerry. I was given list after list of registered Ds to contact. never was I given lists of independents to contact. Never was I given talking points to use to persuade independents or undecided Dems.

I know for a fact that Republicans were targeting independents who they deemed likely to support Bush. They were having neighbors contact them repeatedly in the final days. We were doing nothing, and many undecideds were probably left with the impression that most of the people in our neighborhood (inner-ring suburb) were for Bush.

Hard-core conservatives outnumber hard-core progressives/liberals. Although it's necessary for us to turn out our base, it is not sufficient. We need to do more to persuade undecideds/leaners.

by desmoinesdem 2006-09-16 07:56PM | 0 recs
Re: independents also weren't asked

You're absolutely right that independents need to be contacted, both for persuasion and for turning out people who always vote D but are registered I. Of course, campaigns need to start their field operations in earnest during the summer in order to do either of these things: In order to turn out D-leaning indys, you need to ID them well ahead of time, and in order to persuade, you need to start early. A big problem I had with the Kerry campaign is that they hadn't even opened an office in Philadelphia (or Pennsylvania, as far as I could tell) when I was ready to start volunteering in June/July 2004.

Another problem is that the Democratic Party is awful at collecting detailed information (issues, partisan leaning, etc.) about independents and maintaining it from one election to the next. As a prerequisite to Republicans' "targeting independents who they deemed likely to support Bush," the Republicans built up very good voter files.

by bschak 2006-09-17 08:12AM | 0 recs
critical point

And it leads in so many directions.

Post-2004 there was this widespread sense of disconnection on the part of so many GOTV activists: a conviction that the election had to have been stolen that went counter to the facts at hand.

Why was this?  

I think this was in part because so many Democrats made the offhand mental calculation that the ACT voter registration would drive turnout and yield Democratic votes with the traditional yield of big cities: ie. 70-80% of newly registered voters would go for Kerry.  It would only take a slight difference in that yield (ie. 60-70% instead of 70-80%) to create the situation that did attain: John Kerry improved Al Gore's 2000 vote totals in city after city...but George W. Bush also improved his vote totals in nearly every city as well. (San Francisco and Minneapolis being exceptions.)

Add to that the fact that Kerry did not run nearly as well as Gore in rural areas and that Bush improved his totals in rural and suburban areas as well...and you've got a fuller picture of 2004.

Democrats "felt" that increased registration and turnout "had to" favor them.  That was not necessarily true.

It is understandable that the post-2004 election period ended up being given over to discussion and repudiation of conspiracy theories about actual voter fraud in Ohio and Florida.  But the truth of the matter is that the vote in OH and FL did not differ markedly from everywhere else in the country.  

In fact, in part as a result of the focus on fraud in Florida and Ohio, what Democrats haven't discussed fully is what went wrong in our GOTV in 2004? And what can we do differently in 2006 and forward?

As a case in point, I recently attended a political meeting here in Oakland where ACT activists presented a summary of their actions in Nevada in 2004.

One quote was telling.  A Bay Area activist testified to travelling to Nevada 5 or 6 times in 2004 and registering "around 30" people.  This activist said, in retrospect, "I can't even tell you if the people we registered voted for John Kerry, in fact, I'm sure some did not."

As an abstract civic good there is no downside to registering new voters.  As a partisian tactic there is no substitute, however, for turning out people to vote for your side.

That is what American electoral politics has always been about.  And in this, 2006 will be no different from 2004.

Good essay.

by kid oakland 2006-09-16 01:13PM | 0 recs
Re: critical point

I think there is also a critial value of understanding that the best people to do the work are locals. People don't like to hear what I am saying above but in general people are how they are not how we want them to be. I got people to vote for kerry that probally would have voted for bush or not at all because they respected my opinion on the subject because I was from there, and Because they knew who I and the other workers I had going door to door were.  That I talked like them and understood the local culture and values  as well as probally what most of them were thinking as well when I came to the door, or any of the workers I used. This is something that is lost when you truck volunteers in from nyc or nj,or sf or La into areas they aren't from.

by orin76 2006-09-16 01:29PM | 0 recs
Re: critical point

You are right.  It is just so much harder.  But you are right, and it doesn't give those of us in Dem strongholds much to do but give money.

by Mimikatz 2006-09-17 09:25AM | 0 recs
This is the absolute bull point

People in general don't trust pols, but they often trust neighbors when they suggest voting for pols.

Seems to me that the GOP MO is neighbor-to-neighbor - and that trumps bussed-in out-of-staters every time.

It's not rocket science - there must be Dems all over who are trusted by their neighbors - but the GOP do it, and the Dems don't.

By and large. (I hope someone will come in with facts to destroy my argument, but I suspect there won't be.)

by skeptic06 2006-09-17 09:43AM | 0 recs
Re: critical point

I think there is also a critial value of understanding that the best people to do the work are locals.

You're absolutely correct, and this was affirmed by the CIRCLE publication which I linked to above, when it pointed out that:

Personalized and interactive contact counts. The most effective way of getting a new voter is the in-person door knock by a peer; the least effective is an automated phone call.
The key is to have a peer of the person being asked to vote (and hopefully vote a certain way) do the outreach.

by Alex Urevick 2006-09-17 06:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

This is an excellent diary. I was a bit reticent at first, but you convinced me. I would recommend this get bumped to the front page.

by JewishJake 2006-09-16 06:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Yes, excellent.  Very informative and critical but  constructive. We need more like this.

by Mimikatz 2006-09-17 09:21AM | 0 recs
A tag worth adding...

This is a good and important discussion. I learned a lot.  Thanks to Alex for the post, Matt for bumping it and all for their comments.  Let's hear more.  This seems to be a key area for netroots strategizing that should start now and be prominently featured as we move into the buildup to a mobilization for the 2008 elections.

by mitchipd 2006-09-16 07:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

The problem on the Democratic side is a little more subtle than the diary suggests. Kid oakland and orin76 are closer to the real problem with current Democratic GOTV.

Throughout the 90's the Democratic field plan was to get people to the polls, but it was targeted to likely Democratic supporters. People would turn out precincts that historically voted 65% or more Democratic. Feild was entirely focused on GOTV, persuasion was left to free and paid media. By 2000 the Republicans were much more sophisticated in their media targeting, but Democratic, specifically union, turnout shocked them. Since 2000 they have built a turnout machine that is more precise and effective than ours.

Targeting based on precinct history is very reliable for GOTV but is not reliable for identifying people who might be newly receptive to a Democratic message, or persuasion. It also requires that you ignore the Ds in R precincts. Democratic persuasion efforts are usually focused on swing voters (people who vote Democratic locally but Republican nationally), hence the much maligned triangulation and DLC style 'moderate voter' tactics. Democrats don't bother looking closely at registered Rs or R identified independents.

Republicans have not only done better than Democrats at finding and turning out Rs in an urban sea of Ds, as kid oakland points out, they have also done what orin76 suggests and reached into registered Ds and D identified independents and persuaded segments of them, through careful, targeted messaging and field work, to vote R.

by souvarine 2006-09-16 08:12PM | 0 recs
ACT experience

When I worked for ACT for one month up until election day, the numbers that materred were solely the number of absentee ballots requested.  Those numbers presumably ensured we were banking some Democratic votes, even if we didn't watch over them when they filled their ballot out.

We were not allowed to be "partisan", meaning when pressed by our canvassees we had to identify ACT as an anti-Bush group, not a pro-Kerry group.  Because we targetted registered Ds and Independents, we probably facilitated some voters to vote R from the convenience of their own homes, given the other influences they could have had between our visit and when they received their ballot.

We were not trained to persuade anyone to vote a certain way.  In fact we were strongly warned against it, lest ACT's 527 status get questioned.  As much of a political junkie I was, it was very hard to get into a dialogue with a person, trying to convince them to vote anti-Bush without saying vote for Kerry.    

It seemed like making sure someone got a ballot to vote Democratic was a very tangible method of GOTV.  However, in a lot of instances, the passionate Dems I talked to really wanted and planned to go to the polls that day rather than mail a ballot in, and the strongest sell we had to make to these people was to convince them of the convenience of absentee balloting.

There's a few other details, but our fundamental goal was to facilitate voting for Ds and Is, not to get Kerry votes locked in.  I wondered as I wrapped up about how many nonvoters we actually inspired to vote for Kerry through our methods.  In the same state the Republicans had a pre-election 48-72 hour blitz type strategy that was based on a network of people actually contacting their own neighbors to go and vote.  I don't know if that would have worked better for Dems... there would have been less jobs for post-graduation progressives like myself in the least.

by zprofound 2006-09-16 08:41PM | 0 recs
That is the problem with using ACT

I wrote just such a post earlier in the thread.  

so I agree with you.  

Now...I am a raging liberal but a grammatical conservative...it is not less jobs it is fewer jobs.. it could be less work

Simple example you have less weight because you have fewer pounds.  You use less went you are referring to indivisible quantities like weight or work and fewer when talking about individual things like jobs and work.  

Postgraduates should know that even if they never taught grammar at your school when you were a kid. (one of those rotten progressive education fads that did no good)

Forgive me but it's one of those things like the Democrat party.  It makes me see red.

by debcoop 2006-09-16 11:02PM | 0 recs
correction

fewer when referring to jobs and pounds

by debcoop 2006-09-16 11:03PM | 0 recs
Geography
I did maps for ACT WI.  Strictly low-level stuff, but I was there.  The thing is, where you live predicts with high accuracy how you vote, because people feel more comfortable living in locations where they are surrounded by like-minded people, and because of wealth-party correlations.  The specifics vary regionally, but if you know the local score(and ACT hired people to provide that familiarity), everything you need to know goes right on a map.  
Anyway, the 527 status did limit our mission, but that means that if Democratic candidates were not compelling, that was not our failure.  And we knew we were getting some Republicans to the polls, but that didn't matter, because their votes were cancelled and surpassed by the anti-Bush votes we turned out.  
I must point out that in every swing state with an ACT operation that did not also have significant election irregularities, Kerry won.  You can see that on a map too.  We won Wisconsin, but what happened in New Mexico?
Ironicly, I then went to work for GCI as a fundraiser.  Everything you've heard about them is true.  2005 was not a good year for me.  
by Endymion 2006-09-17 02:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Geography

Anyway, the 527 status did limit our mission, but that means that if Democratic candidates were not compelling, that was not our failure.  

But, but the stratedgy was a failure. Putting hundreds of millions into an operation that CANNOT coordinate with the Democratic party is a recipe for failure. There have been many examples in this post.  
I believe that if we had what Howard Dean wants, 1 million Democrats giving $20 a month, we would have the most effective political organization and GOTV ever.

Maybe we need to become a Membership party like the Labour and Conservative Parties in the UK.

by adamterando 2006-09-17 07:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Geography

Hey what about Iowa?  ACT was there and it flipped from Blue to Red.  

by zprofound 2006-09-17 10:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Geography

Sorry, I should spend more time on these.  When I said, "I must point out that in every swing state with an ACT operation that did not also have significant election irregularities, Kerry won," I was specifically referring to Iowa, one of at least 3 states where the Bush victory margin was less than half the size of the known (verifiable) number of uncounted ballots.  I should have just come out and said it, sorry.

by Endymion 2006-09-17 09:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

deploying professional persuasive activists in the field- isn't even on the radar.

I have a better idea. Why not learn from Democratic Committees with successful precinct operations.

by Alice Marshall 2006-09-17 05:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Kudos.. so how was it accomplished?

by molly bloom 2006-09-17 06:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

to make a long story short, training. Fairfax Democrats ran dozens of seminars training committee members in precinct operations.

How to read a street sheet (print out of registered voters by street w/ voting history)

The finer points of door knocking and how to talk to voters

The finer points of phone work

How to recognize voter registration oportunities

Just ordinary stuff, but if you haven't done it before the training is very useful.

by Alice Marshall 2006-09-17 07:13AM | 0 recs
data bases

Fairfax Democrats have their own data base, so we don't have to pay for expensive micro-targeting programs, nor do we have the privacy issues that entails. Controlling your own database means that individual precinct captains know who has volunteered in the past  and who might be willing to  help in the future, who has voted in Democratic primaries and who might volunteer or at least put up a year sign. This kind of information is extremely valueable and most of the talk about databases does not address this aspect. A database at the DNC does a local precinct captain no good and all and reinforces a top down structure.

by Alice Marshall 2006-09-17 07:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Sounds great! I wish I saw more of this in local Democratic Party organizations.

Since I've moved out East (we don't really have committeepeople in Minneapolis in the same way that Eastern machine cities do), I've seen some great committee members, but even more awful ones who could probably be fine if someone showed them how to be. From what I've seen in Philadelphia and suburbs, you have committeepeople who don't do voter contact before election day, won't put lawn signs at their house for major candidates, run off with the funds the party gives them, etc. The party ought to give trainings and be clear about the expectations of the position.

by bschak 2006-09-17 08:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

The question is was this simply just another city centric county. The democrats problems have nothing to do with wining in city centric counties that's easy it's winning in counties with low urbanization. An example is Lehigh county pa Democrats control all the city seats but only control about 1/3 of the seats of a muni level everywhere else and the county and no seats in the state legislature that don't have a major city component to them.

by orin76 2006-09-17 07:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Right. That's why the organization needs to be throughout the country at EVERY precinct. And then build up from there, whether it's to the county or the town level or whatever, and then up to the state level, and finally nationally.

Ken Melhman gives every state party chair a CD of the voter file and voting history for all of their potential voters. We need that kind of coordination.  Right now apparently, the state Dem parties guard their voter lists with their lives because it's a big money maker (at least that's the case with IA, I believe it's true for other states as well). We need to break that down. Stop pitting different spatial scales of organization against each other and realize we are all the same Democratic Party.

If every precinct is organized, then you automatically have a dedicated volunteer base in every part of the country, rural or urban, progressive or conservative.  No need for ACT and no need to worry about city-only organizations because every community will be covered.

You got to organize.

by adamterando 2006-09-17 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

You're right about the problems with voter files. We have local organizations who don't want to change over from the ad hoc lists they've accumulated, state organizations who (you took the words out of my mouth) "guard their voter lists with their lives."

One major advantage of having a nationalized voter list is that you can use the Post Office's change-of-address system to track people when they move and to transmit that person's information to their new precinct committeeman, who can then register them, get them to volunteer, and so on. That's just one thing that the Republicans can do easily with their system that Democrats can't do at all.

by bschak 2006-09-17 08:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

Oh my gosh I didn't even think about that! That's a brilliantly simple idea. Let's do it! Get Dr. Dean on the phone!

by adamterando 2006-09-17 01:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Only Half the Battle: Are Democrats t

and probally I should have added to make this make more sense the non-urbanized areas of counties with large city centers. Kerry and most of the other state level candidates may have won in Pa in 2004 but Democrats pretty much lost on every other level. The same is true of the 2005 elections they may of won in urbanized areas and maybe on county level in areas Urbanization but they lost alot of seats on local muni levels twp,boros, etc.

by orin76 2006-09-17 07:32AM | 0 recs
I know for a fact that SWRERP turned out GOP

votes in 2004. Not because they registered a whole lot of Republicans, but because in our rural Colorado area the only message to the Latino voter was from the GOP and Bush! Print and radio advertising was to persuade the Latino voter to vote for Bush. In Spanish and English. There was no Latino vote campaign for the Dems.  The only persuasion message they heard was from Bush and the GOP.

I am sorry that there isn't a Latino vote once again in 2006. Our party has allowed the Latino vote to become a swing vote. Especially in Colorado where our state party leaders implemented restrictions on state services for the 'un-documented'. The result is that the Latino Dems are not very enthused about voting in this election. They feel sold out.

by greenchiledem 2006-09-17 07:08AM | 0 recs
Don't believe the Hype

The latest bs about not dealing with the facts that the Democrats suck is  praising the greatness of Reps in GOTV. It's garbage. Turnout for the last two presidential elections was 20% higher than in 96. No one has talked about who these people are, they aren't Reps, god knows they aren't Dems, they are overwhelmingly Ind.

On a micro-level to show no Rep magic in GOTV,  look at the city of Sacramento, which increased turnout 30% between 2000 and 2004 elections. Neither side was targeting CA those elections.

The fact is both parties are in name only, they have no real organizational structures. Elections are run by TV, money, polls and a mercenary consultant class, after being kept ignorant between elections by corporate media. Figure how to change that, otherwise you're just whistling passed the republic's graveyard.

by brutus1 2006-09-17 07:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

Yep, that's why we need every precinct organized and part of a national structure with coordination from the top down and the bottom up.

by adamterando 2006-09-17 07:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

Well what I'm continuing to see is " coordinated campaigns" doing top down management and of course their main targets are where they are already successful.

by orin76 2006-09-17 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

Right but I'm suggesting we need to go at it from both ends. The national party needs to make a serious effort on a state-by-state basis to get the precincts organized. You don't have to have authoritarian dictatorship over all of the PCOs, but it would be nice to have guidelines and a set methodology so you can have every precinct gathering data and talking to people in a consistent manner. That way you can start transferring data downstream in an efficient manner.

Lots of times state parties are just aweful. I know they are in Illinois, where the state party is dominated by Chicago and they could give a shit about the rest of us. So there's no guidance and the county parties just atrophy to point of nothing. That's got to stop. I don't know how. There's a lot of entrenched interests in there that only seem to care about their little fiefdoms.

by adamterando 2006-09-17 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

In pennsylvania it's just a bunch of city obsessed county parties and  initiatives coming down from the state leadership that treat suburbs and rural areas as an after thought. Success is not measured by increased Democratic turn out or votes in the county as total but only in the major cities, and maybe a few high producing old suburbs that are more or less simply an unincorporated part of the city anyway

by orin76 2006-09-17 03:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

are you near philly, pitsburgh, or in central pa?

by adamterando 2006-09-17 06:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

No one has talked about who these people are, they aren't Reps, god knows they aren't Dems, they are overwhelmingly Ind.

That's  interesting, especially since Millenial voters are increasingly self-identifying as Independents, and they are the largest demographic since the Baby Boomers.

Going back to previous commentsabout 527s focusing on "the 1s," wouldn't this strategy preclude reaching a core demographic most likely to vote Democratic (young indepenedents who broke for Kerry by 10 pts in '04)?

Not only would this demographic not be contacted with a persuasuve message as Alex has suggested, but they might not be contacted at all by such an operation.

by Mike Connery 2006-09-17 08:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't believe the Hype

A strategy of focusing on 1's does not preclude reaching young independents.

I don't know about the ACT effort, but when I talk about 1's, I mean people who have been individually identified as supporting the campaign's preferred candidate. Those can be Democrats, young independents, Republican suburban women, Greens, gunslinging Bible-thumpers, or anyone else. I've never been on any campaign which referred to people as 1's based on party membership, demographics, or anything else besides individual identification. Obviously, ACT was a 527, so they might have handled things in an unusual way, but a strategy of focusing on turning out 1's does not inherently exclude anyone.

by bschak 2006-09-17 08:44AM | 0 recs
More diary entries/proposals please!

I think this is a great thread, which contains lots of very good suggestions that merit further focused discussion that can turn them into specific and practical proposals.  I'd encourage those of you with experience and knowledge in this area (and there are plenty of you) to lay out your suggestions more fully in your own diary posts tagged with "field."  My hope is that by adding this kind of standardized tag-based organization of insights, discussions, proposals, etc, the MyDD community will be better able to exert more influence as we move through the 2006 election cycle and begin the build-up to 2008.  A presidential cycle is a great (and crucial) time to apply lessons learned and refine good ideas based on those lessons.  Simple things like standardized tags can help turn a stream of insightful comments into concrete proposals and successful programs.

A lot of you folks really know what you're talking about when it comes to field work.  Let's use the "field" tag and diary posts to make it easy for others wanting to develop successful field organizations to visit MyDD and to as quickly and fully as possible digest and internalize the best of our collective thinking in this and related areas of campaign strategy.

by mitchipd 2006-09-17 09:40AM | 0 recs

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