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.