We won’t see a future anytime soon where campaigns are won solely by keystrokes. Personal direct voter contact will play a key role in elections, both in the U.S and abroad, for years to come.
But we’ll need to start getting smarter, use data more effectively, and better integrate technology in political organizing. The lines between activities that reach individual voters – field, political outreach, canvassing, calls, direct mail, and individually targeted ads – will start to blur.
And 2020 could be the last cycle in which campaign field departments, as we currently know them will exist. These departments will need to shift in order to remain effective and relevant.
Here are seven predictions as to how field organizing will change in the years to come
- Constituency organizing, live calls, direct mail, and parts of digital advertising will all fall under one department. As opposed to fighting over resources, campaigns will look first at who they need to reach (what I will later refer to as targets) and plan how to reach them. The overall head of operations, a chief mobilization officer or organizing director, will make sure that each part of the campaign’s voter contract contributes to this goal. This position will only grow in its importance, and preexisting directors who can adapt to these roles will become an increasingly important part of the senior staff.
- Organizers will need to be more adaptable, both online and offline. Field organizers will have to grow comfortable will communicating online and integrating social media with their offline programs. Staff will have to be trained to think about how to identify targets, understand them, and build integrated programs to persuade and mobilize. These organizers will need to better understand their targets, who they are, how they process information and use that information to further tailor their programs. The lines between field, political, and digital organizing will blur, and the roles of these staff members will evolve.
- We’ll better track how people communicate and use that information to better target our efforts.With years of campaigns tracking voter data via state party voter files, we’ve amassed thousands of data points of voter behavior, vote history, and consumer information that help us determine which voters to target. But we still spend millions of dollars each year attempting to reach voters with tactics that won’t work for that voter. Campaigns are using consistent software for phoning and canvassing, giving us the opportunity to learn how to best reach an individual voter. Taking data on how and when campaigns have reached a specific voter will help campaigns build more effective voter contact programs.
- We’ll frame how we approach “influencers” and those that fall in our campaign’s political organizing programs. Campaign political staff focus their efforts on party leaders, elected officials, and traditional left leaning groups. But as more and more influence falls outside of party structures, campaigns will need to accept that and to ask their political departments to expand their efforts to include non-traditional influencers.
- Email advertising will decline and text-based methods will continue to be effective until further regulation.Text and messaging won’t exist in a vacuum – they will feel like part of an integrated program, with text and messages being queued up in apps like Megafone, Relay, and Hustle after a call isn’t reached. If FCC and regulators crack down on contacting voters via SMS, third-party messaging apps will likely seek to fill that gap. US campaigns would be shocked to see the level that messaging apps are integrated into voter’s lives outside of the US. Look for these to play a more dominant role in US campaigns if – or when – text message outreach becomes further regulated
- Location-based ads and voter contact will become further integrated. Most disciplined field programs build voter contact “sandwich” programs, typically sending mail or an auto-call before a canvass and a follow-up mail piece shortly after. A few campaigns have already added digital ads to this formula, targeting their next canvass with individually served ads. Campaigns will begin to send targeted ads through Facebook and Google before door-to-door canvassing to help reach voters. If opponents have been canvassing in a neighborhood, campaigns should consider running localized ads encouraging swing voters to ask the opponent tough questions at the door. Localized ads might even be used to set the record straight in the instance of negative campaign ads and calls.
- Digital ads, live calls, and canvasses will generate leads and schedule voter contact for field organizers. Phonebank and canvass operations that identify persuadable voters will do more than just add that name to the campaign’s voter file – they’ll schedule a specific time to talk with a campaign operative. Field organizers will approach their regular nightly calls the same way but will have a series of calls already scheduled with potential voters, increasing the likelihood of a campaign staffer reaching this voter or potential volunteer.
Summing things up:
Field organizing isn’t going anywhere, but it is changing. Campaigns will need to grow and evolve and continue merging their online and offline efforts. They’ll need to treat all individual voter contact as part of a more extensive program to reach voters in their preferred medium. Voter files will need to include contact method scores to more effectively target voters and use time more efficiently. If you’re a campaign operative, it’s time to start developing the skills necessary to meet these new roles and prepare yourself to be the first “Mobilizing Director” of your campaign.