Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some good software

Here are a few pieces of software I use for political campaigns and non-profits; I'd suggest checking  them out if you're in this field.

I just finished building a website (www.youthalive.org) in Squarespace, a content management system (CMS) that makes it really easy to create good-looking, maintainable websites. More and more non-profits and political campaigns are using Squarespace for their websites, because you can hire a web developer to build the site in Squarespace, and then fairly easily maintain it without technical expertise. It's my favorite tool for building websites.

Another important piece of technology for non-profits and political campaigns is their donor database. There are a huge number of databases out there, and I haven't seen any that I feel does everything quite right. However, I got a demo of ActionKit the other week and was very impressed. It's more for longer-term non-profits than political campaigns, and it's only available to progressive causes. A few people have asked me to help them pick a new donor database, and so I may have more to say in this front in the next few months.

Donor databases often include email tools, but if your database doesn't, the best standalone email software I've found is Mailchimp. It's dead-simple to use, makes gorgeous (and CAN-SPAM compliant) emails easy, and is even free for lists under 1,000 subscribers.

If you're running a voter contact program, you'll need a list of voters to contact. I often recommend folks to TargetSmart (only available to progressive campaigns); they make a good case that their data is the best because they use multiple sources and verify them across each other, so that you're getting the most and best-quality phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. Another great source for California lists is Political Data, which works across the aisle.

For campaigns that need a database to store their voter lists in, the Voter Activation Network (VAN) is the standard tool for progressive campaigns (sorry non-progressive folks, I just don't know as much about the tools available to you). If you know of any other software like VAN, I'd love to have something to compare it to.

And, of course, Impact Dialing is the best software for contacting voters by phone - it triples the number of voters you can contact compared to dialing by hand!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to win elections, Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about how to get your supporters to vote with a Get Out The Vote campaign. Now, I'll focus on how to persuade people to become supporters in the first place. You can persuade people in a several ways, like mail, phone, door-to-door, and TV. But unless you've got enough money to talk to everybody in your district, how do you choose which voters to target? And how do you know which messages are most effective?

I've actually already begun to cover this topic in "Should campaigns hide LGBT people?". Here's a re-hash. Let's say you're planning on sending out direct mail, and you have two designs that you're trying to decide between. Randomly choose 10,000 voters to get one mail piece, 10,000 to get the other, and 10,000 to get nothing. (10,000 is a magic number for statistical significance.) After you send the mail, call all the groups and survey them on their support for your candidate or issue. Then you can see which mail piece is the most effective, and, by comparing the level of support of people who got the mail to the people who received nothing, see how effective your pieces are.

Using statistical modeling, you can also see which demographics were supportive in the group that got the mail piece but weren't supportive in the group that didn't get the mail, and then use that model to predict which voters in the entire population will be most persuadable. You might even find that one mail piece works best with one group, and the other piece works best with other groups. Now that you've picked the best mail piece and know which demographics to target, you can send the right mail piece to the right voters.

What if you're making phone calls in addition to sending mail? Add another 10,000 random voters onto your test and give them a call at the same time you're sending your mail. Then, when you do your modeling, you'll want to see if some demographics are more cheaply persuaded by phone and others by mail. A mail piece is much cheaper than a phone call, but many more people will listen to a phone call than will look at a mail piece. It turns out that different demographics have different response rates to phones versus mail; for example, older people are more likely to read their mail than younger people. [Shameless plug: if you're making phone calls, check out Impact Dialing's awesome predictive telephone dialer!]

Finally, you might be running a door-to-door canvass or TV ads. With these tactics, you have to target geographic groups of voters - either media markets for TV or "walkable clusters" for canvasses. The principles of testing these tactics is similar to mail and phones, but instead of randomly choosing individual voters for a test, you randomly choose walkable clusters or media markets. Then, after you model which voters are most likely to be persuaded, you'll look for the media markets and walkable clusters with the highest density of these voters.

Unfortunately, campaigns rarely do much testing and targeting. Instead, they rely on "expert" opinions, focus groups, long-form polls, and other approaches that often don't hold up when actually tested in the real world, and they deliver their message to either to broad an audience or to a poorly chosen targeted group. But if you want to do any of this testing, I'd love to help you out, so don't hesitate to get in touch: michaelrkn[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How to win elections, Part 1

A client recently asked me about how best to identify new supporters of his organization's cause. They're looking at a ballot measure a couple years from now and want to begin the campaign work now. I admire this kind of forward thinking, but I told him he's better off procrastinating. Here's why.

Most campaigns run a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) operation in the last week or so before an election, and in order to get your supporters to the polls, you first have to know who they are. It used to be that the only way to know who was on your side was by calling them up and identifying them, one by one. Each of these IDed voters would then be contacted by mail, phone, or door-to-door to remind them to vote. GOTV campaigns often weren't run in bigger districts, because it took too much work to identify enough supporters to make a difference.

Statistical modeling has changed all this, at least for larger races. It only takes a couple thousand surveys to project to the rest of the population how likely each voter is to support an candidate or issue (see this post for more on how this modeling is done using consumer and demographic data). It turns out that these models can perform just as well as IDs in correctly identifying supporters. They cost a fraction of IDs, and the surveys and models are best done just a couple days before the GOTV campaign starts.

What about persuading voters to support your issue or candidate? Aren't ID calls good for that? Well, sort of. But you'll have to wait until Part 2 to learn about that.

If you're running an election and want to chat about your strategy, drop me a line at michaelrkn[at]gmail[dot]com.