In the last edition of Technology Bytes, we delved into the details of the data-driven grassroots operation Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia Democratic Coordinated Campaign used in their sweep of statewide political offices last November. If you liked that campaign, get ready for more: Democrats are taking this model nationwide in 2014.
I got a glimpse of the strategy through a series of presentations at the New Organizing Institute’s RootsCamp 2013 back in December. According to DNC staff and other Democrats involved in 2014 planning, party committees definitely saw Virginia as a test: could the tools and techniques that helped reelect Barack Obama work for Democrats in an off-year election?
Virginia provided a good laboratory, both because it’s a purple state and because both parties’ gubernatorial candidates were largely unloved, making the political battlefield about as level as it gets in practice.
This time around, Democrats had the advantage of being able to build on their 2012 expertise, and on the grassroots side, volunteers and staff made some 3.4 million calls through “virtual” phone banks (their own cellphones) and knocked on 4.1 million doors. Digital channels were in the mix, too.
According to a RootsCamp presentation by Bully Pulpit Interactive staffers Lauren Miller, Danielle Butterfield and Madeline Twomey, their clients actually got higher click rates on Virginia political ads than Obama 2012, in part because of better targeting.
Most importantly, they were contacting the right voters. Among other targets, the campaign had prioritized people who regularly turn out to vote in the off year, hoping that consistent contact via ads and volunteers armed with the right messaging would persuade them to support the Democrats. With the final margin in the governor’s race far closer than the polls had suggested, it’s hard to imagine this kind of comprehensive outreach didn’t make a significant difference in the outcome, particularly for the new attorney general, who won by 163 votes.
One important note: statewide races are a distinct beast, and these techniques may or may not work as well for congressional candidates.
But one thing we do know is that Democrats now have access to several cycles of voter data, with more accumulating every time Americans go to the polls. In battleground states, the data include direct responses to canvasser or phone bank questions, providing the ability to build complex persuasion/GOTV models and a deep understanding of the electorate.
The Democratic National Committee is currently working on strategies to leverage these resources up and down the ballot—expect Democratic House and Senate campaigns across the country to have access to the VAN (Voter Activation Network) and its trove of data in 2014.
So will it all matter? Even the best field operation is likely only to yield a few percentage points at the polls, so the political fundamentals (candidates, district lines, and the national dynamic) will still dominate.
But if Democrats can get close, they now think they have the tools to put their candidates over the top. The trick, for individual campaigns and the national operation, is to get these races tight enough for data-driven field outreach to do its thing. Let’s see what happens.
BOOST YOUR FACEBOOK MARKETING BUDGET
Big news in the world of Facebook: even fewer people are going to see content you publish on your campaign Facebook Page. D’oh!
Thanks to Facebook’s imperative to highlight the kinds of content that keep people on the site, page owners have seen their readership drop steadily over the past year. Some studies show that the drop-of turned into a plunge late in 2013, a maddening trend for anyone who has put time and money into building a Facebook following for a campaign or organization.
Besides a strategy to produce “relevant” content (photos and stories that your fans want to interact with), marketers are turning to Facebook’s various options to “boost” or promote their posts if they want to be seen by a significant percentage of their followers.
In other words, it’s time to pay to play, at least if you want to get the kind of value out of a Facebook Page that we saw by default a year or two ago. If you’re planning a social-heavy strategy, you’d better include paid promotion in your budget, like it or not.
A GOOD REASON TO BUILD A FACEBOOK FOLLOWING EARLY
Despite declining ROI, here’s one reason to invest in a Facebook following as early as possible: social validation for Facebook ads. Facebook’s various advertising and promotion choices usually include the option for some kind of social component, often in the form of a “[Your friend] likes this” note incorporated into the ads themselves.
Building an early Facebook following helps you get that process rolling quickly so that many more of your ads will include the kind of “everybody’s doing it” reinforcement that advertisers have long known is effective. Once your campaign is closer to the home stretch, social validation will help you get more out of your persuasion and GOTV ads. Thanks to the Bully Pulpit staff mentioned above for the tip on this.
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning Epolitics.com, and a 15-year veteran of online politics. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org