With voter turnout strategies, it’s easy to have a love-hate relationship. We’ve all heard strange GOTV stories, and, like the movie “Groundhog Day,” terrible GOTV tactics seem to replicate themselves across the country, regardless of where you reside.
Every year, these “tactics” appear on campaigns, and most people shrug their shoulders and say something along the lines of, “It’s always been done this way.” But the truth is that these strategies don’t benefit campaigns at all. On the contrary, they are a waste of money, time, and effort, and in some situations, they harm the reputation of the candidate and the staff in the short and long term.
No matter which side of the aisle you are on, these shoddy GOTV methods are poor politics, and it’s past time we called them out. Although not every strategy will agree with everything on this list, these are the most prevalent tactical GOTV faults I see cycle after cycle.
The Sign Blitz
This happens in a lot of campaigns. For example, someone thought ordering 5,000 signs for your city council campaign was a good idea early on. However, you’re sick of tripping over boxes of placards on your way to the bathroom since your campaign headquarters now smells like ink. So you recruit several hourly employees from Craigslist and instruct them to install signs anywhere they can.
I wouldn’t say I like signs. That’s not because they can’t be valuable; it’s because they’re frequently misunderstood, over-ordered, and cause a financial and organizational drain. Signs are rarely a helpful strategic communication medium because name recognition alone is not the deciding element in many races. Furthermore, signs nowadays cost roughly $3 per piece, plus labor. As a result, you can quickly pay up to $7 for each sign.
Take the time to determine how many signs you require before placing an order. Make your employees produce a list of significant sites and polling locations so you can get an accurate count. How many campaigns are there that do this? Regrettably, not many people do. However, planning ahead of time and ordering later is a far better option. Even for simple tasks, hiring unvetted hourly workers is a bad idea. If you need to hire people for a last-minute GOTV campaign, make sure you thoroughly evaluate them first.
Rent-a-canvass is another terrible GOTV strategy. Campaigns will hire a “canvass consultant” who will be assisted by a team. You have no idea how many people the canvass consultant has, and you never get a definitive answer. All you have to do is send a check, and they’ll take care of the rest, including pulling the list and knocking on doors. When you query the canvass consultant about the voter universe or a gauge of the results, they will say, “I’ve got it covered.”
It astounds me that, with all of the technology available to campaigns, some people refuse to modify the way they canvass. You can follow paid and volunteer canvassers in a way you couldn’t a few years ago with programs like NGP VAN, Organizer, Grassroots Unwired, and others. This means that every canvass may be turned into a quantitative exercise with a clear understanding of the ROI.
You can easily keep track of how many doors were knocked on, how many people were spoken to, and how many people were driven to an early voting site using these tools. That is why each GOTV canvassing service you select must be evaluated. When hiring a GOTV canvassing company, make sure they follow all local and state rules and take care of any necessary permits.
The Lawn Chair Brigade
There is often a “lawn chair brigade” in states where campaign volunteers can be present near voting locations. On Election Day, this brigade includes paid and unpaid campaign “volunteers” who sit on lawn chairs near polling places and listen to talk radio. This group may occasionally greet a familiar voter or holler at someone they dislike.
I understand the concept of mobilizing people in the neighborhood to welcome and persuade their neighbors at the polls. Unfortunately, in many locations, this is not the case. If you live in a state where you can get close to a polling station, make sure you employ volunteers who have a positive relationship with the community and who have been trained. Phone calls and canvassing are likely to be more cost-effective, but if you have the possibility, hiring polling site volunteers can be beneficial if done right.
The Honk and Wave
It’s time for GOTV, and someone in the campaign demands that the candidate stands in traffic for five hours. Of course, this could result in a collision, but “people love to honk and wave.” And, sure, a handful of fender benders won’t make voters unhappy.
Most recent campaigns have now phased out the honk and wave, but there are a few holdovers. There have been numerous news reports regarding accidents caused by honking and waving. Unfortunately, many more stories have remained untold. The mainline is that honking and waving is not a measured activity, and the candidate’s time would be better spent elsewhere. While door-knocking and making phone calls can be laborious at times, they are highly measurable and, in general, more productive strategies.
GOTV Slash and Burn
Your field director has set up seven canvases throughout your district for GOTV. She has the staff and the lighting in place, but she is out of time for canvass training. So she hands out literature to the canvassers and tells them, “Go knock on some doors” and “You know what to do.” At some point, one of these volunteers will get into a fight at the door. Someone puts some of your campaign’s lit in a mailbox without understanding they shouldn’t.
Volunteer training is critical, yet in a rush to accomplish “anything” during GOTV, campaigns frequently send canvassers out into the field without adequate preparation and training. Campaigns must consider what would happen if they have more people than they require or if everyone arrives simultaneously. These problems are simple to resolve if you have a plan. You risk underutilizing your top volunteers and losing them when you need them the most if you don’t have a plan in place.
So, how do you go about it? GOTV, like any other technology, improves over time as long as we adapt to new techniques. A couple of these tactics are included below to help you get the most out of your GOTV campaign.
Think Measurable and Scalable Tactics
This is what distinguishes good from bad GOTV efforts. For everything you do during GOTV, you should strive for measurable results. The number of doors knocked, phone calls made, and cable TV advertisements up during early voting are all genuine, measurable components of a well-run GOTV campaign. Pulling control groups is another fundamental approach to measuring success in the mail and canvass activities. Having your team hold each other responsible for goals can help you measure progress and optimize your GOTV program’s best-performing strategies.
Using positive reinforcement to remind voters they have voted in the past and should vote again in a low-turnout election is a significant step forward in the science of GOTV. With so many studies on the effectiveness of social pressure messaging, it’s a great tool to include in your GOTV communication strategy.
A Modern Canvass Operation
Mobile has grown to become a must-have for politics, including a growing number of canvassing choices. It’s virtually become standard to use mobile devices to track canvass crews and enter data in real-time. The ability to manage and track canvassers, which are accessible in various solutions, makes GOTV easier and more accountable than ever before.
You may now have an utterly measured operation, whether you’re developing an in-house canvassing operation or employing a canvassing service. You’ll know how many workers knocked on doors, how long they were out for, and how many total doors they knocked on.
Organizations have utilized text messaging and SMS for turnout and mobilization for years, and the technology’s simplicity and ease of use make it a valuable tool for GOTV. As long as you obtain opt-in cellphone numbers from the start of your campaign, SMS can be utilized to engage with and move core supporters to action.
With the capacity to detect a geographic location and show advertising to phones in that location, mobile geofencing is a terrific potential GOTV strategy. You can even track phones after they leave the designated area. This is an excellent technique for locating construction sites and early voting locations. Facebook can also help you mobilize volunteers and engage your existing base. It’s still a go-to tool for finding volunteers and canvassers.
Another smart option for campaigns and groups is to use digital marketing to increase turnout. IP and cookie targeting helps you to accurately target potential voters and improve the effectiveness of digital marketing.
Finally, don’t forget to make phone calls. Although they appear to be low-tech, click-to-call digital commercials, pledge-to-vote phone programs that use voters’ recorded pledges, and the predictive dialer have made phone programs more tech-savvy and influential.