How a New Voter Contact Tactic Goes From the Drawing Board to the Field

About Us: Progressive Turnout Project is the largest voter contact organization in the country, specifically dedicated to mobilizing the Democratic Party and defending democracy. Our mission: rally Democrats to vote.

At Progressive Turnout Project, we pride ourselves on employing novel tactics to connect with Democrats and rally them to vote. In order to do this, we’re constantly testing new methods of voter contact in pursuit of more impactful results. It’s part of the data-driven approach that sets us apart.

For example, our new program: Neighborhood Letters. The program is a way for volunteers and activists in swing states or districts to encourage their Democratic leaning neighbors to vote. We send volunteers a list of Democrats in their neighborhood, along with a template letter from them to customize and deliver to their neighbors asking them to vote in the midterms. 

The concept of leaving a letter at someone’s door is not new. But this is the first program of this magnitude to be tested in a randomized control trial, — an experiment designed to accurately measure our impact by comparing the voter turnout among the population receiving letters (the treatment group) and the population going about their lives as usual (the control group). 

What started as an idea evolved into the successful 2021 pilot in Virginia, our upcoming program in Pennsylvania for the 2022 primaries, and will expand into states with key Senate races: Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. 

We spoke to Reid, who originated the program, for more insight on how to develop a voter contact program from the ground up.

The Idea

Neighborhood Letters is part of our Postcards to Swing States initiative. Reid, our Postcard Program Director, co-founded Postcards to Swing States as a volunteer in 2019. In just two years, volunteers across all 50 states have sent 29 million handwritten messages to voters, more than any other organization. But there’s always room for innovation.

Like any good experiment, the Neighborhood Letters Program started with a hypothesis. As a new volunteer grassroots organizer in the 2018 election cycle, Reid was trying to flip his congressional district. As he was canvassing, he would leave letters for his neighbors to collect contact information from like-minded people in the neighborhood. 

“I have a hypothesis that neighborhood organizing has its upsides,” Reid said. “It’s similar to relational organizing, because even if you don’t know the person that lives four houses down, there is a connection between you.”

And so, the idea for Neighborhood Letters was born. The program has volunteers print out and customize a letter for their neighbor, and then leave the letters in their respective doors in the weeks leading up to the election. 

This allows volunteers to participate in the program without having to find a candidate to support, a large chunk of time to set aside, or things to say to the stranger who answers the door.

“I knew that a lot of people that were willing to write Postcards would do more,” Reid said.

He suspected that with the right program he could move them “up the ladder of engagement” toward more involved, more impactful volunteer work. 

“One of the things that I found is that I could recruit far more people to help with things that didn’t require them to go door-to-door and have face-to-face conversations with strangers, including walking around and doing all the same exact motions but not actually knocking on the door.”

This is different from our Postcards to Swing States Program in a few ways. The biggest: Postcards to Swing States can be mailed from all over the country (we have writers in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico!) — but these letters come from one of your neighbors. 

“Picture this:  you show up at your door, and sticking in your doorknob is a letter that’s clearly from a human being who explains that they’re your neighbor,” Reid said. “That evokes a different feeling than checking your mail and throwing out 95% of it.”

It’s this personal connection that sets a letter apart from a postcard, and what Reid believes will make the program so effective.

“We don’t get mail from humans generally,” Reid pointed out. “It’s one of the few things that we’re not jaded and dismissive of yet, which makes it a potential game changer.”

During our pilot in Virginia  174 volunteers contacted over 34,000 voters. The program increased turnout by 1% among voters in the households that received letters. Since the pilot was successful, we’ll be launching a Neighborhood Letters program in seven Senate states for the midterms this year.We’re aiming for 500,000 letters, and with the number of folks in the homes it’s likely we’ll add between 5,000 – 10,000 votes this fall.  

Here’s how you can help

This program will help inform the 2024 election landscape, for PTP and other organizations looking to deploy a similar tactic. Like most of the programs we run at PTP, volunteers and supporters will be major contributors to the success of Neighborhood Letters. 

“I’d like to have organizations across the country try something like this,” Reid said. “If we can get 5,000 volunteers to deliver half a million letters, that demonstrates scalability, and then there’s a good shot of other political organizations picking up on the tactic.”Sign ups for folks in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin will start in  July, but you can help us rally Democrats to vote today by volunteering, working with us, or contributing to support our efforts.