The New York Times recently ran this article about the sorry state of the digital campaign infrastructure in the Republican Party. By a staggering margin, operatives skilled in DD&A, or Digital, Data, and Analytics vote for Democrats. More importantly, they work for them- on the campaign teams themselves and in the firms that they contract.
What do these digital operatives do exactly? And what has the grassroots movement to cut big money out of politics been bringing to this fight? Let's look at this piece by piece.
Digital campaigns include social media presence including things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It also includes tools that help campaigns reach out to individual supporters to raise money, organize volunteers, and get the word out about upcoming events.
Obama’s 2008 campaign has been recognized by Republicans and Democrats alike to have revolutionized digital campaigns. In 2007, Chris Hughes (now the publisher of the New Republic) left his post as one of the co-founders of Facebook to join Obama’s “New Media” campaign. There he set up My.BarackObama.com, or MyBo, as a way to connect Obama supporters with each other in the lead up to the primaries. Obama supporters could punch in their address into MyBo and join groups of volunteers based on location or affinities (Veterans, teachers, etc.). They raised record amounts of money, organized scores of volunteers, and filled the crowds at campaign events.
Modern electioneering occurs in the overlap between Big Money and Big Data. The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) required each state to compile a master list of voter files. These show the names of who voted, but not how they voted. Additional information listed on these rolls, such as contact information, varies state by state, but in reality that doesn’t really matter. Parties and political communications firms buy these rolls from the State, and then in turn sell them to campaigns that cross reference them with consumer data from places like grocery stores and your digital footprint from sites like Facebook and Google, resulting in a terrifyingly comprehensive profile of each voter. They then use these profiles to predict voting behavior and prioritize outreach accordingly. Some of this is intuitive. Primary voters tend to be more politically active, so they get called first. Some of this is less intuitive. If you buy high-end toilet paper, you’re more likely to get a call from a phone-banker come election time (because you’re more likely to vote), and whether it’s a Democrat or Republican on the other end of the phone might depend on whether you drink bourbon or cognac.
But those techniques are over a decade old. Democrats have pioneered a new wave of outreach prioritization through analytics.
It should be clear by now that modern campaigning is more than just envelope stuffing and calling through the phone book. Campaigns arrived at these methods through a long running arms race between Democrat and Republican campaign teams fueled by mutual secrecy, jealousy, and fear of rival capabilities. It’s a world where technology builds from one campaign to the next, but almost never crosses party lines. This results in starkly different cultures around technology in the two camps, the primary difference being the Democratic Party’s close ties to academics who turn campaigning into a science.
Democrat data crunchers often pool their resources with behavioral scientists to run randomized control trials to find outreach methods that are most effective in two fields: winning the support of voters, and getting supporters to the ballot box. Here is Sasha Issenberg’s example of data cruncher Aaron Strauss working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
In June, the DCCC ran what Strauss called a “persuasion-microtargeting experiment,” to test Democratic messages on voters in the field. Experiments found pockets of voters who moved in their direction in response to particular appeals: After hearing the party’s message on Medicare, men over the age of 65 increased their support for a generic Democratic congressional candidate three points more than the broader population. The DCCC could build a profile of voters whose opinions it could change, even if the data about them didn’t portray them as perfect centrists.
Democrats break their voter rolls into hyper-specific categories and reach out with methods proven through experimentation. So while Ted Cruz’s campaign may be packed with “10 staffers who hold PhDs in behavioral science or analytics,” they will have to play catch-up with rivals who are years, if not decades ahead of them.
What’s important to note here is that while these systems enable supporters, they don’t create them. “We didn’t have to generate desire very often. We had to capture and empower interest and desire,” according to a chief tech officer on the 2008 Obama campaign.
There is interest in ending systemic corruption in Washington. 96% of voters agree that money in politics is a problem. What have we been doing on the front lines (front lawns?) of the grassroots campaign to “capture and empower” that interest?
Quite a bit, actually.
Though groups like Open Democracy don’t have floods of anonymous money flowing in to our campaign to buy out Silicon Valley-Madison Avenue-K-Street firms (imagine the rent!), true to the spirit of a grassroots organization, we do have friends willing to pitch in. Talented, generous friends.
Chris Bucchere in Austin, Texas created QuestionR, a web based app that compiles and displays user-recorded videos of voters asking candidates one question, “What specific reforms will you advance to end the corrupting influence of money in politics?” QuestionR also allows users to search for candidate speaking events near them by punching in their ZIP code, and sign up from there as a questioner.
Nationbuilder is a non-partisan outreach tool that helps organizations like NH Rebellion stay in touch with supporters, allowing us to keep them updated with news and upcoming events. It lets us know who has contributed money and who our strongest supporters are, but at the moment does not tell us what kind of booze they drink.
Democracy Matters, a campus based activist group, is currently working with Team Democracy, a group of design, coding, and marketing activists, to develop a program that allows volunteers to use their social media networks to help expand outreach capabilities.
But we also do low tech too.
Stamp Stampede works to stamp our message onto dollar bills, a tactic dating back to the Roman empire and used by the Suffragette movement in the United Kingdom, when activists defaced pennies with the phrase “Votes for Women”. Stamp Stampede estimates each stamped bill will hit a staggering 875 eyeballs. More stamped dollars means more people talking about money in politics.
In perhaps the lowest-tech campaign of all, the New Hampshire Rebellion has been walking across the Granite State, aiming to bring attention to the issue in the same way Doris “Granny D” Haddock did in 1999 did when she walked across the country at the age of 88 holding a sign that read “Campaign Finance Reform.” While we’ve been using the technology we have to help get the word out, ultimately what counts is volunteers doing their part.
On Saturday, July 4th, we donned our tri-corner caps and took to the streets once again to declare independence from big money politics and demand the presidential candidates support systemic reform. Some 150 rebels signed up in advance to make the 20-mile trek from Rochester or 16-mile coastal walk from Hampton to downtown Portsmouth. After a festive BBQ, we celebrated our first Rally for Independence in Prescott Park with a bipartisan reading of the Declaration of Independence, "heroes of democracy" street theater, remarks by NH Rebellion founder Lawrence Lessig, live music, and plenty of free Ben & Jerry's! Although the weather and family conflicts dampened attendance, over 200 patriots in all braved the rain and gave up their holiday to join our Declaration.
The media took note. In a clear sign that our movement is gaining steam in the mainstream press, dozens of outlets including the statewide WMUR and NHPR, and progressive and conservative radio and newspapers alike from The Boston Globe and Portsmouth Herald to The Union Leader and Washington Times covered the event. Our team and supporters also launched an energetic opinion and social media campaign with a dozen or more pieces printed in the run-up to July 4th and thousands of first-time contacts via social media. Although many news stories were brief, we are actively expanding our relationships with key state and national reporters, especially around our campaign to Ask the Question of every presidential candidate and hold them accountable.
Walks don't plan themselves and I'm very grateful to our lead organizer Ellen and the entire staff, summer fellows, and many volunteers for their diligent work. Thanks also to Betty Tamposi on the Advisory Board and former state senator Burt Cohen for their impassioned reading of the Declaration. And we were backed by gracious in-kind sponsors including Ben & Jerry's, the Dover Friends Meeting, Panera Bread, etc.
After the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, prints were made, couriers dispatched, and the Declaration read in towns throughout the colonies, including Portsmouth. Although the first ice cream ad would not appear for another year, we have it on good authority that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson partook in this fine delicacy even as they fought to secure our nation's independence.
Needless to say, this Saturday July 4th we will help our selves to both!
Please join our Rally for Independence at 4:30pm in Portsmouth's Prescott Park for a bipartisan reading of the Declaration of Independence, an appearance by some of our founding fathers and mothers, remarks by Lawrence Lessig, and, of course, free Ben & Jerry's ice cream!
The Rally will celebrate the latest NH Rebellion "Walk for Independence" from big money politics, with two groups of rebels setting out on Saturday morning from Rochester and Hampton, NH, and arriving together in Portsmouth for a free BBQ and Rally. There's still time to sign up for the walks - just click here!
Published in the Seacoast Online, Jun 7, 2015
by Jeff McLean
What if I told you that there is a clear and simple way to transform the dysfunctional politics of Washington D.C.? And what if I told you there is an easy — and fun and productive — way to help make a difference this July 4th?
If you are anything like me, you are fed up with D.C. failing to act on important issues — or worse, passing bills that increase the size of government, handing out favors to donors and special interests, and bickering about partisan issues instead of solving the real problems that lay ahead. This is not a partisan problem and, despite what you might hear, neither party can claim the moral high ground on the issue of systemic corruption.
The main cause of the systemic corruption and dysfunction is the way candidates are forced to spend the majority of their time begging for campaign contributions.
Bribery is illegal, and yet this almost-but-not-quite bribery is completely legal. It is corruption: pure and simple corruption, and the result is the same: a broken Congress exhibiting a profound lack of progress on every issue. By corruption, we do not mean quid-pro-quo corruption. Instead, we are talking about a corruption of an entire system… one that every politician is trapped within and seems content within. It is skewing the priorities, warping incentives, and leading to dysfunction which re-enforces itself every time a member of Congress, or the President, is forced to choose between doing what is best for re-election instead of what is best for the public.
The “tragedy” is that most of us are resigned to things being this way. There is a prevailing belief that there is nothing we can do to change this system, however degrading it is to politicians, to voters, and to our country as a whole. And because we feel the system is hopeless, we give up. This is precisely what the two parties want us to do. The two-party structure and the massive industry that follows (lobbyists, pundits, talking heads, media, political “consultants,” and many others) are the only winners.
By now you may have heard of the New Hampshire Rebellion, but in case you are not familiar, here is our goal: We are going to make the issue of systemic corruption driven by the way campaigns are funded the number one, cannot-ignore-it, issue in the high-stakes 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary.
No matter what issue you think needs to be tackled in this country, it cannot be resolved without first solving corruption. The Left will not get environmental protection or real healthcare reform. The Right will not get a simpler tax system, reduced regulation, or a smaller, less intrusive government. And the majority of us in the pragmatic middle won’t see an end to the partisan and petty arguments of the two-party system. Whatever it is you want changed — whatever vision you have of a better America — corruption, in the way that Congress raises money, is standing directly in the way.
We do not own a cable news network or series of talk radio stations, we do not have armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and lackies to do our bidding. What we do have is YOU – the citizens who make up 96 percent of the public who agree that our current political system is corrupt and dysfunctional and must change.
Our next big push toward making the issue of corruption the deciding factor in who gets elected in 2016 is this July 4th, when we are going to walk two routes along the Seacoast. The more who walk with us, the clearer it becomes that this issue matters to NH voters. Those who can not do the walk can join the celebration at the end in Prescott Park.
We want you to join us. Two groups will leave in the morning from Hampton and Rochester, and meet up at Prescott Park in Portsmouth in the afternoon for a rally. You can sign up at walk.nhrebellion.org.
The candidates are visiting, and the 2016 NH presidential primary is right around the corner. Please join us and help show D.C., and those running for president, that in order to get your vote, they must first tell you their answer to this critical question: “What specific reforms will you advance to end the corrupting influence of money in politics?”
Our latest batch of lawn signs has arrived, but we're sure they won't last long. If you're in New Hampshire, e-mail email@example.com to request a sign for your lawn or porch or horse!
Last Thursday, we were able to have Marianne Williamson and Lawrence Lessig join us in Seattle to highlight our work. A video of the event can be found HERE.
This July 4th, we're upping the ante with two simultaneous '2016' themed walks – 20 miles from Rochester and 16 miles from Hampton – converging in downtown Portsmouth with a rousing call to make systemic corruption of money in politics the core issue of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. You will not want to miss the finale event in Prescott Park, complete with barbecue, ice cream, and games!
In addition to July 4th, we are continuing to Walk the Talk on the streets and in our neighborhoods throughout the coming months to unite the vast majority of Granite Staters who care first and foremost about a government free of corruption.
Walk on – Ellen, Jeff, and the entire NH Rebellion team
P.S. There's still time to register for our Memorial Day weekend walk this Saturday from Lebanon to Hanover! And you can now set-up your own walk, no matter where you live, using our new Walk the Talk platform and toolkit!
We are only three days away from the exciting Upper Valley Walk for Democracy! The weather report says 67 degrees and sunny, so it'll be a great day to walk for democracy. Please do register to join us.
I also want to let you know about our sign-making party on Friday night from 5-7PM. We'll be in Collis Hall, Room 219, on Dartmouth's campus. It'll be a great opportunity to get to know some fellow walkers, and to make sure you're getting your message across in your own voice.
We wanted to let our supporters in the Seattle area know that Lawrence Lessig will be speaking in Seattle on Thursday, June 4th, at the Town Hall Seattle venue, alongside bestselling author Marianne Williamson.
If you can make it, you’ll be able to hear directly from both Lessig and Williamson at the event and afterwards at an informal reception.
Tickets are $15 for the movie and reception, and every dollar of those funds will be used to support the work of the New Hampshire Rebellion to reduce the corrupting influence of money in American politics. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20. Please note, this event is expected to sell out so please be sure to purchase a ticket online in order to secure a seat.
Here is a direct link to the event on the Town Hall Seattle venue site, and here is the Facebook event.
This event will also feature the Seattle premiere of "Killswitch: The Battle to Control the Internet" which covers some of the current work of the New Hampshire Rebellion.
NHRebellion Supporter Conference Call with Beth Grunewald, Dan Weeks, Ellen Read, Jeff McLean, and Lawrence Lessig on May 15th, 2015