Get Out the Vote and Super Voters

Get Out the Vote and Super Voters
by Ben Donahower, Get out the Vote

It seems that everything is in short supply during get out the vote. There isn't enough money; there isn't enough time; and there certainly isn't enough volunteers. Yet, traditional wisdom requires campaigns to treat tried and true partisans that vote every election in nearly the same way that we would contact a supporter whose voting record isn't as predictable.

As paid staff on a presidential primary in 2008, I got a robo call from the other candidate an hour before the polls closed asking me to go vote. It's likely that that candidate decided they had a little extra money and only enough time to tell their phone consultant to contact everyone that was likely voter as soon as possible, but this story made me reconsider the conventional wisdom revolving around super voters and GOTV.

Why contact a voter like me on Election Day? I haven't ever missed an election since I was of voting age. I'm going to vote. In a primary, the concern for campaigns as it relates to super voters like me is who I am supporting, and in the general election, candidates can safely assume I will vote and who I will support. See, frequent voters are also the ones who have their mind's made up. They are the most engaged, they have a political philosophy, and are partisan.

It's fine to contact these voters in the lead up to the election, but it’s important to make the communication meaningful for the campaign and the super voter. For the same reasons that super voters don't need as much contact they are also more forgiving of phone calls from candidates than others, so the traditional get out the vote won’t hurt your campaign but it won’t help it either.

The answer is simple: change your GOTV script! Super voters like me don't need to know where to vote. Likewise, the other election nuts and bolts that campaigns’ communicate to super voters during GOTV are unnecessary. There isn't a need to ask if super voters need a ride to the polls or to tell them when the polls open or close. These voters have voted at the same location, at the same time, by the same means of transportation for many years; they have it covered.

Instead, use super voters as a resource for the campaign and leverage their political leadership in their neighborhood. Ask these committed voters if they would be willing to make just a small number of phone calls, ten or twenty, on Election Day. Perhaps they would be interested in spending an hour at their polls. Even if you already have coverage, having a local person or second one at the polls will make a difference.

You could also ask questions about voters in their area or the political climate more generally. In the case of the former, perhaps the campaign hasn't been able to shake down the super voter's neighbor. Ask your super voter if they know where their neighbor stands or if he can twist his neighbor’s arm to support the candidate:

"Hey Jane Smith, do you know John Doe down the street? Great, you do? We haven't been able to figure out who John Doe is supporting this election, do you know? Okay, it's really important that we get everyone out to vote who supports our candidate, so would you please tell John why your supporting our candidate and offer to take him to the polls with you?"

How many times have you heard that you need to contact targeted voters six times, seven times, nine times, or more? These numbers, which are different based upon who you talk to, are at best derived from the average number of touches that you need to persuade a voter and get the voter to the polls. The truth is you don't need to contact targeted voters a specific number of times to win their support and ensure that they are going to the polls on Election Day; you need to contact them as much or as little as necessary to persuade them and get them out to vote.

The challenge is understanding groups of voters well enough to know what that necessary number is. It could be zero touches, seven, or twenty. Some of your targeted voters need a lot of attention and others, like super voters, you can skip your traditional GOTV calls and mail.

The same principle applies to your scripts and messaging. The better you understand each segment of your targeted voters, the better you can tailor your communication with them. In the case of super voters, leverage your communication with them by tapping into their political prowess and their connections in the community. It's almost condescending for someone to tell a super voter who has voted every election for the last thirty years that they vote at the local fire hall. They know that! Instead, tap into the intelligence that they can provide to the campaign and turn their interest in politics into volunteerism.

Ben Donahower is the editor and coauthor of Get Out the Vote to Win, a free"" ebook with strategies for campaigns to increase turnout and win their election.