UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Like unions, Democrats now must begin building up their base | WisCommunity

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Like unions, Democrats now must begin building up their base

[img_assist|nid=88615|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=125|height=129]Years ago I worked on the campaign of a veteran Wisconsin state legislator who was quite comfortably ahead in the polls. Being myself a campaign veteran, but one not yet beholden to cherished notions of proper campaign strategy, I posed a question at the planning table.

We were, I noted, about to conduct the usual get-out-the-vote approach that targeted frequent voters. Get the polling lists from recent past elections, examine who came out always or most frequently, and concentrate your attentions upon those members of the electorate.

But, I said, most campaigns now do that only because it's cost-effective and funds are often precious. With a big lead, I suggested, perhaps we should take advantage of an opportunity to BUILD rather than DILUTE the base.

After all, if you keep going ever more intensely after fewer and fewer voters, you are also increasing the proportion of voters -- infrequent or merely potential -- who are left untouched and thus more likely to drop away, unappreciated and taken for granted.

I proposed an experiment: Take several city blocks in safe wards and, instead of running the usual door-to-door polling lists, visit every home on the block, or at least every home with registered voters of any party.
Despite resistance to this wasteful idea, the candidate agreed and so our volunteers and even the candidate attempted the broader ground campaign, albeit on a limited basis.

Result: Some people turned us away or refused to answer the door. Predictable. But others were thrilled to see us, especially when the campaign's message was delivered personally by the incumbent legislator. I'll never forget the instant response of one lady who answered the door for the incumbent. "Oh," she said, "this is exciting. We've never had any politician come to our house before."

In the world of realpolitick, this kind of effort is simply going to be too hard most of the time, but I am here to suggest that it now needs to become more of a norm for progressives in general and Democrats in particular.

Republicans are working very hard to protect their base, a plurality of likely voters, just as Democrats protect theirs. Democrats have an advantage in that the party is better at the ground campaign and GOTV efforts in general. That means the real battle is over the indefinite independents, who lurch back and forth as the nation's political mood swings.

The key to future victories is to more successfully court more of those independents, and the key to that is highly personalized, face-to-face, frequent, high-quality contacts. That's a huge amount of work, but as it's the only way -- at least short of spending many millions and making the Democratic campaign machine even more Republicanesque in oversimplifying issues and turning off more voters).

This transformation in strategy needs to begin now, before the recall elections. Time is precious and the tendency will be to lay the idea aside until more time can be devoted to kicking it around. Bad idea, in my book. People now hunger for engagement, and not via TV or the web. They yearn for authenticity, they tend to believe what's in front of them more than what's transmitted.

If progressives and Dems rely exclusively on electronic media and now-traditional GOTV efforts, they may squander their innate advantage in this transformative moment: A moment when citizens are, more than ever, open to ideas that are conveyed in the most sincere manner.

But let's be practical and accept that this cannot be done on a wholesale basis in the recalls, because there simply isn't the time. Nevertheless, even if it takes years to gear back up, this is the only way back, in the end. Our goal, if not our ability to achieve, ought to be a small campaign parade down every residential street in the state.

It's no different than marketing in general: Email is easy, so it is greatly discounted as a sincere communications medium. Handwritten letters are far more believable. Live phone banks are more believable than robocalls. Knock and visit is more powerful than knock and drop or just plain drop.
Visonary or wasteful, foolish exercise in the unattainable? In terms of convincing the modern voter, you decide. But bear in mind: The traditional methods are now swamped by the likes of Citizens United and a very low-information electorate.


April 30, 2012 - 4:02pm