When chancellor Angela Merkel announced her candidacy for a fourth term in last year’s general election, she pointed out the uniqueness of her challenge. She made clear the coming election would be “different.” It would no doubt be more demanding than those fought in past years.
But historic challenges are met by historic measures: For the first time the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and its youth organization Junge Union (JU) built a joint campaign team, dubbed connect17. As early as one and a half years ahead of election day we formulated a new mobilisation strategy and new campaigning methods.
We focused on supporting local candidates and existing structures in the field. Our primary aim was to establish a platform for direct communication between as many citizens as possible and their local candidates, online and offline. With connect17 we tried a bottom-up method to engage people in active campaigning, on the ground, all over Germany.
Connect17 was a success story. We mobilised 13,000 supporters and knocked on 1.3 million doors. Here’s some of what we learned:
One of our main goals was to convince the candidates to engage in door-to-door campaigning. This method had been successful in the past, especially in the United States, but in Germany we had never focused on it. In order to complete our objective, we had to prove its effectiveness. The state election in Saarland on 26 March 2017 was a huge success for our party. Thanks to the first real door to door campaign the CDU won more than 48,000 additional votes, and voter turnout rose by eight percent. We demonstrated the personal delivery of a campaign message direct to the voter’s home has a positive impact on the election result.
Why does it work? Across Germany, distrust of political parties is on the rise. How can we win our votes back? People trust people. It’s easier to convince potential voters if their candidates show up at their door to talk to them personally.
Many candidates feared rejection at the door would demoralize and demotivate not only their campaign supporters but themselves. We can now say that an overwhelming majority of the citizens were more than happy to finally meet their candidate – or his or her support team – personally. Even people from the other side of the political spectrum or undecided voters were more easily convinced at the door of their home than with any other campaigning instrument.
Over the past few years we have been talking a lot about data and how to collect it. Our primary goal was not to convince people from the other end of the political spectrum to vote for the CDU, but to reach potential CDU voters and ensure they came out to vote for the CDU on Election Day.
So the first task was figuring out where theses potential voters live. We worked to find streets, quarters and villages with a high CDU affinity. But in the end the most valuable data was the information that was given to us by our local supporters. Our way of getting access to this information was by inviting everyone to participate in our campaigning activities. Every political campaign relies on volunteers. But this time they had to build structures that supported door to door campaigning, for example by setting up city routes and figuring out ways to approach citizens and convince them to vote for CDU.
The success of connect17 relied heavily on these local supporters and volunteers. The important part for us was not only to activate them but also to keep them motivated. After a rough start we were able to convince more and more people to participate in connect17. Many supporters realized their support was necessary for the campaign and not just symbolic.
By providing our volunteers and local supporters with the tools and skills they needed, we involved them directly in our campaign, with huge success: More than 12.000 volunteers engaged in door-to-door-campaigns.
Effective campaigning starts with personal and direct contact in every direction. We did not only convince citizens to vote for CDU, but also our volunteers and local candidates to engage in door-to-door-campaigning. Our team travelled all over Germany and hosted seminars to explain our methods and convince volunteers and local candidates of our approach. We chose a direct approach to convince them to use a direct approach as well. In the end we can say that in regions with active door-to-door-campaigns the turnout rose at least by one to two percent.
Conrad Clemens is the Federal Managing Director at Junge Union of Germany, the country’s largest political youth organization.