March 24, 2018 was witness to an explosion of youth-led activism across the nation. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took their tweets to the streets to demand gun reform and set their sights on the ballot box. Protests erupted in 390 of 435 congressional districts in the U.S. “We’re going to take this to every election, to every state and every city,” David Hogg said in his speech at the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. “When people try to suppress your vote, and there are people who stand against you because you’re too young, we say, ‘No more!’”
A diverse coalition of young voters across the country are organizing ahead of the midterm elections, dedicated to “vote them out” and bring change up and down the ballot. With midterms just around the corner, progressive groups and campaign strategists need to engage an energized base ‒ and channel their energy to the polls.
As an industry, electoral politics is unique insofar as campaigns have definitive end dates, with long expanses of time between them. Brilliant teams of technologists and strategists build everything they need to win elections, but once the votes are cast, the campaign shuts down and all that intellectual property dies. Campaigns operate in cycles; elections are won or lost, and staff move on. The wheel is then reinvented by a new batch of brilliant technologists and strategist next time ‘round.
Today’s candidates rely on party organizations like the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to maintain and pass along valuable technological IP. However, as it turns out, institutionalizing digital infrastructure across elections cycles is really hard. Once a campaign has been won, it has achieved its goal. There’s little incentive for the campaign that won yesterday to maintain its systems long enough for tomorrow’s candidates to build upon it.
President Obama’s victories were hailed as models for campaigning in the Digital Age. With that in mind, Democrats have been thought of as the front-runners in building a robust digital ecosystem that could span election cycles. And as Catherine Bracy, who ran Obama’s tech office in San Francisco puts it, integrating technology with the campaign “makes sense when you realize that the structure of our grassroots organization (relatively flat, and decentralized) very closely matches the structure of the Internet itself.” Still, institutionalizing such an ecosystem — much less innovating that ecosystem — has proven to be difficult.
That’s where Higher Ground Labs (HGL) comes in. Founded by a group of tech experts and Obama campaign alums in 2016, HGL is an accelerator working to fund companies that provide technological infrastructure for progressive campaigns up-and-down the ballot. As founder Betsy Hoover explained to Recode, the technology from campaigns “typically dies” after election season is over. Marrying innovative start-ups with campaigns, then, provides a scalable and long-lasting infrastructure that can help bridge the technological gap between election cycles.
The Tuesday Company was honored to be a part of HGL’s first cohort. We are grateful for their support, and it is with that in mind that we are thrilled to welcome HGL’s new generation of teams to the progressive political tech family.
Inspiring volunteers is no easy task. Even the most passionate supporters sometimes balk at calls to action. Though door-knockers are important and phone-bankers are valuable, Democrats will need to engage new elements of their base who aren’t willing or able to get involved in those more traditional ways – or it will all be for naught.
Making videos to distribute online can be overwhelming, especially for campaigns working on a low budget. The good news is cheap videos with minimal production are often more persuasive online than expensive and over-produced videos.
The most effective campaigns focus on producing many low-budget videos and strategically select which few messages merit professional production. Here’s how can campaigns can embrace cost-effective video production to drive social media engagement:
The world has changed drastically in the last ten years, and if your vision of how to best use campaign volunteers hasn’t changed, you won’t be winning many elections.
Campaigns rightly think of engaging voters as a game of numbers. The most successful strategies and tactics contact the most voters, turn those voters into volunteers, and leverage those volunteers into even more voter-contacts. The goal is to reach as many constituents as possible. Data has proven that the best way to maximize outreach is to connect with voters where they are; today, that means we need to reach them on their cell phones and on social media.
Campaigns that want to expand their voting base and turnout need to think about their digital volunteering infrastructure. Campaigns that don’t have this sort of infrastructure need to build one (we can help with that), and those that do have this sort of infrastructure should work to improve and scale it (we can help with that, too).
Widespread distrust means that campaigns can no longer rely on earned media to deliver their message to voters.
Depending on who you ask, media distrust is the logical and appropriate conclusion to decades of biased reporting, the result of an ever atomizing media landscape, which emphasizes confirmation bias or, possibly, a blend of both.
Regardless of the cause, in this media environment, campaigns need a new strategy — particularly if they want to reach voters outside their base.
I worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a field organizer in Michigan. Before the election, I was asked by more than a few Michigan voters about an ad running on their Facebook timelines: a South Park-like animation citing Clinton’s now infamous “super-predator” line from the 90s. Brad Parscale, Trump’s social media director,showed Bloomberg this ad in the days before November 8, adding that it was part of a broader effort of dark ads aimed at African American voters in Michigan and beyond. Our team wasn’t sure what to say ‒ we didn’t have a commensurate response to counteract these efforts online.
This was the “major voter suppression operations” a senior official for the Trump campaign described before the election, and it was part of the reason Trump won by just 12,000 votes in Michigan. The Trump campaign was releasing a flood of fake news, ads, and twitter bots online, but the Democrats failed to build a robust digital counterweight.
I would not have wanted Hillary’s team to confront bots and fake news with their own, and this is not the answer for the Democrats moving forward. Republicans have always focused their campaigns on advertisements over the airwaves, so it made sense for the new frontier of Republican campaigning to be attack ads online. For decades, Democrats have won elections by harnessing the power of their volunteers through door-to-door canvassing and grassroots movements. The time has come for Democrats to bring their strengths online.