Campaign Innovation

Campaign office of Congressman Raul Grijalva, Tucson, AZ. 2018 Photo by Antonia Scatton

My previous organization, UpRise Campaigns, worked to build political campaign capacity within communities themselves by dramatically increasing the scale and variety of volunteer engagement. Our goal was to reduce the dependence on money in politics and make elected officials more responsible to their constituents.

I believe that we need to bring politics back to the community level and make it more about face-to-face interaction and real relationships and less about communicating through various media channels.

A different approach.

In more than 20 years of working on political campaigns, I have found that what works best looks a lot like old-timey community-based campaigns. It’s always been about listening: tapping into relationships, local knowledge and common sense.

There is a strong consensus that person-to-person outreach is by far the best way to persuade and motivate, backed by both the latest tests of campaign tactics and decades of research in the behavioral sciences.

We can learn a lot from private sector practices like word-of-mouth marketing, experience management and human-centered design to scale up and bring structure and accountability to these traditional campaign activities.

Here are 7 key guidelines:

1. Getting your campaign to go “viral” in the real world (not just online) is about how well you engage volunteers and provide people with a sense of community belonging.

2. Voters make political decisions emotionally, not rationally, based primarily on their feelings about the political Party and their philosophical principles first, the candidate second and the issues third.

3. Talking about your opponent only gives them more “air time” in the minds of the voters you are trying to persuade. Use your time to promote your own beliefs and principles. Voters respond emotionally when you talk about what you believe to be right and wrong.

4. For more than 50 years, marketers have known that one in ten people influence the opinions and decisions of the other nine, however, different people are Influencers in different topics. Political volunteers and activists are the Influencers to whom their peers look for political recommendations.

5. Until recently, ninety percent of peer recommendations happened offline, either on live phone calls (15%) or in person (75%). Once coronavirus restrictions end, we believe people will be hungry for in-person social experiences to regain their lost sense of community belonging.

6. Equipping your supporter-evangelists to spread your message with talking points, stories and sharable content is the most effective way to communicate.

7. Visual cues in the environment (signs and promotional products with brand logos and slogans) trigger conversations. They are critical to making your word of mouth grow instead of dying out.

What does this mean for the way we structure our political campaigns?

The best way to motivate your base and persuade swing voters is to engage your volunteers and supporters to share a positive, emotional message with their friends, neighbors and co-workers. 

Campaigns >> Supporters and Volunteers >> Voters

Distribute talking points and sharable stories to volunteers and supporters through meetings, phone, text and email. Even broadcast media and other paid advertising should serve primarily to deliver verbally sharable content to supporters that they can carry forward. Note: This is how conspiracy groups spread their message and spur rapid growth!

Focus on encouraging those supporters and volunteers to deliver those memes and stories to their friends, neighbors, co-workers and other community members through a wide variety of direct outreach activities.

Take relational organizing to the next level. Let your locals tell you how to reach their peers. They will have hundreds of connections in the community and be involved in clubs and organizations outside traditional political channels. Help them craft unique ways to promote you that are appropriate for each culture and environment.

Help trigger those conversations by blanketing the environment with visual cues in the form of signs, posters, hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons.

Have a physical presence in the community so curious people can find you, come in and ask questions. If you can’t have an office in a highly visible location, do a lot of tabling and pop-up events.

Contact me to learn more about our work!