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.