The Campaign Spot

Using the Personal Touch as a Campaign Volunteer

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a FreedomWorks event about “Who will make more of an impact online in November, the Right or the Left?”

The topic kept shifting around a bit, but to the extent I said anything useful to the audience, I think it was to focus on making the maximum impact off-line as well. In political campaigns, Facebook friends, blog hits, Twitter followers, web videos, and e-mail lists are all useful, but they’re all tools to the ultimate goal: votes.

If you volunteer for a candidate, the campaign may ask you to knock on doors, stuff envelopes, work phone banks, put out yard signs, and other traditional activities. And all of these acts have their place. But it’s commonly said that the average American sees 3,000 ads per day. By October, our mailboxes are full of mailers, our e-mailbox is full of spam, every commercial break is full of attack ads, and the sides of roads are cluttered with candidate signs. If you knock on my door, and I don’t know you, why should I listen to you? If you call out of the blue, why should I take time out of my day to listen?

If you’re reading this site or volunteering on a campaign, you are, by definition, not an average American. You’re much more knowledgeable and much more passionate about political issues. But we political junkies know lots of people who aren’t political junkies, who only begin thinking about politics in the fall of even-numbered years. I would urge conservative grassroots activists to focus less on attempting to persuade strangers — knocking on doors, handing out flyers, etc. — and instead focus on persuading people who know them already.

Hopefully, these people already like you — friends, relatives, neighbors, the guy you see at the coffee shop, parents of the kids on the Little League team you coach, etc. And you probably don’t want to make a hard sell right off the bat; it might be easier to begin with something relatively nonpartisan or simply a matter of accountability, e.g., “Isn’t it a shame that Congressman So-and-So refuses to hold town-hall meetings anymore?” Then, once you’ve gotten that person thinking about the upcoming election, you can make your pitch for your preferred candidate or cause, and then you can let them know how passionately you feel about this decision. (I’ve been hearing a bit of Jim Rohn’s talks, and he makes a good point that people know how to deflect or tune out spin and arguments that they sense are false or exaggerated, but they have a much harder time countering sincerity.)

This has, in some past campaigns, proven decisive:

“We knew the emphasis was going to be on turnout,” said Bob Paduchik, the Ohio manager for Bush’s campaign. “That’s why our plan emphasized the grass roots and the ground game. We were always thinking about personal contact. What we did in Ohio, I think, changed the face of politics.”

Also:

Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman said yesterday that Republicans built their operation on the belief that neighbor-to-neighbor or colleague-to-colleague contact is far more persuasive than relying on paid canvassers who have no personal connections to the voters they are wooing. “Our effort will be larger, it will be more credible and it will be targeted,” he said.Republicans built their ground operation on the successful mobilization plan of 2002 and on lessons gleaned from the party’s “72-hour Project,” started after the 2000 election to determine why Bush seemed to lose support the final weekend. Democrats have taken what they have done in the past and perfected it with improved voter lists and new technology.

Let the other guys put their faith in spam and robocalls. The single greatest asset of any campaign or cause is the people who work on its behalf.

UPDATE: Intriguingly, I got this release moments after I post this:

As of Sept. 21st, Republican candidates for the Senate had over 1.43 million Fans on Facebook, compared to just under 300,000 for Democrats. The differential on Twitter is even more striking, where Republican Senatorial candidates collectively have close to 520,000 Followers, and Democrats are just below 90,000.

Even when eliminating Arizona Senator John McCain and California Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina, Republicans who respectively have the largest number of Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers, Republicans are clearly making larger inroads with social media. Without McCain and Fiorina, Republican Senate candidates average 20,985 Facebook Fans, compared to 8,260 for Democrats. The G.O.P. averaged 5,891 Twitter Followers, compared to 2,591 by their opponents.

The full report, which lists social media statistics for all Senatorial candidates along with major political figures and musicians, is available at www.HeadCount.org/blog.

I am particularly interested in the experiences of campaign volunteers at this moment, so leave comments if you have thoughts on this approach.

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