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Danica Roem made history when she became the first transgender candidate to win a primary for Virginia’s House of Delegates last week. If elected this November, she will become Virginia’s first openly transgender lawmaker. Her entry into local politics is part of a larger trend of LGBTQ individuals stepping up and running for office in Virginia (six other candidates made it through primaries) and nationwide.
The LGBTQ community is centered largely in urban settings or suburban areas, like in Roem’s case. Because there are fewer overall districts in which these candidates may be competitive, many will begin or advance their political careers in down-ballot primaries. Turnout is historically lower in primaries and precision targeting can be the difference in a win or a loss. This raises an interesting question: can you specifically target the LGBTQ community in order to turn out their vote and/or to engage them on a particular issue?
The answer is, well, sort of.
This particular community cuts across race, gender, ethnic, economic, and other demographic characteristics. Even use of the word “community” is problematic implying monolithic consensus on issues and candidates, which is not the case.
There are a variety of political views. This adds to the challenge of identifying LGBTQ voters outright at a granular level. For example, if you were to use household and demographic data, it may make sense to target all households with two same-sex people over the age of 25. You may be met with some success, but this will also invite error. Two same-sex people in a particular household could be relatives or grad-school roommates, for example. Voter data companies continue to explore the best ways to understand this community’s voting behavior, language, and cultural markers.
With that said, what we do know for sure is that there are better and best ways to get your campaign and message in front of LGBTQ individuals. Here are three tactics you can use now: correctly identify your own LGBTQ supporters, include straight allies in your modeling, and run contextual advertising programs.
Correctly identify your supporters.
If you can’t accurately identify who someone is -- or what they care about -- then you can’t communicate with them in a way that is personal and resonates. This is an area almost every campaign can improve upon.
In field and fundraising programs, specific questions about how supporters self-identify can be built into phone scripts and sign up forms. Most software companies a campaign may use continue to exclude options to label and identify non-binary supporters in an easy and intuitive manner. Thankfully, earlier this year, NGP VAN made a much needed change to its software aiming to correct this problem.
The company explained that users can now assign non-binary gender pronouns to contact records in order to address their donors, supporters, or volunteers in the most appropriate way.
This change by NGP VAN allows campaigns to more easily do what they should have been striving to do all along -- intentionally embedding solidarity with their supporters in every strategic resource consideration, message and interaction made.
Moreover, it removes one more barrier to a fully intersectional and relationship-driven political campaign. For those using exclusionary software, push the company to correct the problem. Otherwise, look for opportunities to uniformly label individuals correctly with your software as best you can.
Include LGBTQ allies in your outreach.
In 2016, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign and the Hillary Clinton campaign, voter data company Catalist created one of the most sophisticated voting models to date identifying what the groups dubbed “pro-equality” voters. These voters were straight people who support LGBTQ rights, but may not be consistent voters.
Estimates suggest there are 10 million LGBTQ voters nationwide. In top swing states like North Carolina or Pennsylvania, these voters comprise 3-4 percent of the total electorate. Catalist measured every voter’s likelihood to support equality and show up to vote on a scale of 0-100.
Voter’s who received scores of 70 or more on equality, and 30-80 on turnout became the core focus of GOTV efforts. These folks -- if they showed up on election day -- were very likely to support Clinton or other pro-equality candidates on the ballot.
To give you a sense of scale, the Human Right Campaign, using this model, identified 500,000-plus LGBTQ and pro-equality voters in North Carolina. The governor’s race in the state in 2016 was decided by less than 11,000 votes.
Make the most of key moments.
Now more than ever, people are turning to smart devices to learn, do, and buy in real time, at the moment a need, curiosity, concern, and/or inspiration hits them. These “micro-moments, ” as coined by Google, are presenting political and commercial marketers with an opportunity to connect with their desired audiences like never before. You can serve up ads in a context in which LGBTQ voters and allies are most attuned to your message. This takes shape through contextual advertising and programmatic ad buys.
Right now, Roem’s candidacy and primary win are spurring conversations and receiving tons of press online likely appealing to a broad range of progressive and LGBTQ voters. As readers are learning about her candidacy through articles and think pieces, organizations and campaigns can run online ads right alongside and embedded within these articles.
All of this is done through automated ad technology which matches your ad’s keywords to similar keywords/content across web properties. In this case, search terms like Danica, Transgender, LGBT, Virginia, and the like would be smart places to begin taking advantage of this “micro-moment.”
Beyond keyword considerations, ads need to provide relevant, useful content. To figure out what this might look like, anticipate the kinds of questions and actions someone reading about Roem right now might want to take.
A reader may be inspired to get involved in anti-discrimination efforts, want to find out who the LGBTQ candidates are in their own state, learn more about the challenges facing transgender individuals, or even learn more about transportation (a key issue Roem is running on). When you’ve answered possible questions a reader may have, craft ad content that you think best gives readers more of what they want and keep the conversation going.
Digital advertising is for everyone.
And for those of you running smaller down ballot races, don’t assume the technology and the tactics expressed here are only for major statewide political campaigns. Or, only work in pursuit of LGBTQ voters. NGP VAN and DSPolitical forged a partnership late last year that will give campaigns a self-serve digital advertising option starting at a modest price point of $500.
This means campaigns of all sizes can respond quickly, in the moment, launching targeted digital ads with relevant creative and keywords to connect with the custom audiences for their particular race. If you’re a pro-equality candidate or an LGBTQ candidate, there’s no reason not to take advantage of these resources, and in doing so, put yourself in a stronger position to win.
Leigh Ann Smith is the founder of BRAVE, a political digital strategy and marketing agency. She is a national campaign board member with the Victory Fund. You can connect with her @Leigh_Ann_Smith.