Most voters are skeptical by nature. For proof, one need only look at the general approval ratings of politicians. The key to activating voters today is to reach them in a way that engenders trust, support, and the sense that they are being spoken to individually. The best way for campaigns to build this sort of rapport is to have volunteers introduce the candidate to their friends and families.
Reams of recent data from the 2016 races demonstrate the value of relational organizing. That is, we now know affirmatively that a text from a friend moves a voter more than a text from a stranger, in some cases increasing turnout by almost 5%. This feels intuitively right.
We are far more likely to engage with someone who we know–and hopefully like and trust–than someone dialing in from a phonebank across the country. Anyone who has ever gotten a call or text message from an unknown number on behalf of a campaign, even one who they like, can attest to the reflexive, “ugh, who is this?” that comes along with these out-of-the-blue contacts.
This work requires a slight reframing of the way we think about volunteers. Candidates and their senior staffers should work to leverage the digital networks of the campaign’s supporters as a resource to direct targeted, specific asks. Relational organizing and friend-to-friend contact allows campaigns to micro-target voters with ease and simplicity.
Trust has long been a staple of American politicking and organizing; it is a necessary condition for successful campaigns. Trust is also increasingly difficult to earn. Our best opportunity to build strong and lasting grassroots movements lies in activating whole networks of digital volunteers and parlaying that trust and engagement into votes and policy victories. Campaigns that can harness the power of relational digital organizing start on third base.