Progressive Turnout Project is a grassroots Political Action Committee (PAC) with a single mission: get Democrats to the polls. We design, test, and execute specialized voter turnout programs targeting sporadic Democratic voters in the most competitive congressional districts in the country. In the 2016 election cycle, we sent our trained teams to districts across the country to run tailor-made turnout programs complementing the work campaigns do and boosting Democratic turnout.
Turnout in the 2014 election was the lowest in 70 years and Democrats didn’t just lose–we got crushed. That’s not a coincidence. When voter turnout is low, the composition of the electorate dramatically changes.
In 2014, turnout was just 36.7% nationally, but far lower among key Democratic constituencies: young people, minorities and low income people1. More than 44 million eligible voters of color did not vote and 66 million eligible voters earning less than $50,000 did not vote2.
There are a lot of reasons for this divide in turnout. Many sporadic voters are more mobile and therefore less involved in community and social networks that encourage voting and harder for campaigns to contact3. Many of them are disenfranchised by overly restrictive voting laws or unable to go to the polls because they work multiple jobs.
However, it means that when turnout is high, the electorate is more liberal, and when turnout is low, the electorate is more conservative. So without either persuading more of that smaller group of regular voters to vote for Democrats or turning those sporadic voters into regular voters, Democrats aren’t going to be able to hold a majority in Congress any time soon.
Our focus on turnout stems from our teams belief that getting Democrats to the polls is the most effective way to win elections. We’re part of a proud tradition of progressives using data and behavioral science to hone campaign strategy. We synthesize existing research and run our own experiments on new tactics to make sure our programs have the largest return on investment possible.
Traditional wisdom says that campaigns should focus their resources on persuading regular voters to cast their ballot for a specific candidate instead of worrying about turnout. They believe that the best tool to persuade those regular voters is TV advertising and that belief is reflected in the way campaigns spend their money. In 2014, congressional campaigns spent the majority of their budgets, more than 320 million dollars, running a mixture of positive and negative TV ads on broadcast television in the few weeks leading up to the election4.
Unfortunately, there’s very little evidence that broadcast TV reaches those targeted voters or works to persuade them when it does. A study conducted by Google found that 75% of the ads congressional campaigns ran in 2014 didn’t even air in the candidate’s district due to the way media markets are shaped5. Even worse? Studies show that it’s nearly impossible for a TV ad to make someone switch their vote6.
1McDonald, Michael. “2014G – United States Elections Project.” United States Elections Project. University of Florida. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. <http://www.electproject.org/2014g>.
2McElwee, Sean. Why The Voting Gap Matters. Rep. New York: Demos, 2014. Print.
3Pillsbury, George, and Julian Johanssen. America Goes to the Polls 2014. Rep. New York: Nonprofit Vote, 2014. Print.
4Trujillo, Mario. “Google, Digital Firm Warn against Waste of Political Broadcast Ads.” TheHill. The Hill, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
5Trujillo, Mario. “Google, Digital Firm Warn against Waste of Political Broadcast Ads.” TheHill. The Hill, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
6Spenkuch, Jorg, and David Toniatti. “To Rally Your Base, Buy Air Time.” Kellogg Insight. Northwestern University, 4 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
7Green, Donald P., and Alan S. Gerber. Get out the Vote!: How to Increase Voter Turnout. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2012. 139-40. Print.
8Issenberg, Sasha. The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. New York: Crown, 2012. 12-13. Print.
Our focus on turnout stems from our team’s belief that getting Democrats to the polls is the most effective way to win elections. We’re part of a proud tradition of progressives using data and behavioral science to hone campaign strategy. We synthesize existing research and run our own experiments on new tactics to make sure our programs have the largest return on investment possible.
Decades of research has shown that one-on-one voter contact is the best way to get Democrats to the polls. For example, experiments have shown that having conversations at the door increases turnout more than 7 percent and makes a lasting impact on voting behavior7. Sending voters their own voting record or their community’s voting record has been proven to increase turnout as much as 6 to 8 percent8. Check out more of our tactics and research initiatives here:
Why Congressional Campaigns?
The Obama campaign did an incredible job of registering and turning out new and sporadic voters in 2008 and 2012. However many of those new voters didn’t show up in 2010 or 2014. As a result, Democrats in Senate and House races lost in 2010 and 2014 in congressional districts where President Obama won by wide margins.
Presidential campaigns are successful at turning out voters because of the incredible resources they have: research teams, targeting experts and veteran field operatives who can help guide get out the vote efforts. The Obama campaign even had a whole team of people in charge of running experiments and seeing what techniques worked.
On the other hand, congressional campaigns often have more limited resources and need to save their cash in order to build name recognition, build relationships in the community, and compete on TV. By making strategic investments in congressional districts, Progressive Turnout Project can make a big impact on close races.
What Kind of Impact Will You Make?
In the past two elections, 61 congressional races were won or lost by 5 percent or less. Michele Bachmann won by just 1.2 percent in 2012! Boosting turnout by just a few thousand votes can make the difference in competitive races every cycle and make the difference in taking back the House. Check out the races we’re currently operating in as well as our watchlist.
But there’s also a more important and complex reason turnout matters: those differences in voting reflect not only differences in privilege, but substantial differences in policy preference. Polls show that non-voters are more progressive than voters. They’re vastly more supportive of policies like a higher minimum wage and free community college, and believe the government should work harder to reduce inequality. Mobilizing these communities and empowering these voters gives them a voice in electoral politics and produces more equal representation.
How Do You Raise Your Money?
Progressive Turnout Project is a grassroots Political Action Committee (PAC). We have more than 1.3 million supporters and have an average donation of just 14 dollars. We rely on grassroots supporters to power our mission. If you believe in what we’re doing and can make a contribution please visit our donation page.
Do You Work with Campaigns?
PTP is a Non-Qualified PAC, and therefore cannot coordinate our efforts with individual campaigns or party committees like the DCCC. Instead, PTP’s field representatives will keep their eyes open and ears on the ground to ensure that we aren’t duplicating efforts.