ENGAGING VOTERS

OVERVIEW

2017 – 2018

In 2017, we resisted the Trump agenda by winning all 10 of our target districts in Virginia. We expanded our targeted districts to include competitive state legislative races in select states where the legislature plays a key role in redistricting. Virginia’s House of Delegates is the first place where we turned our state legislative program into action. There we spent $600,000 on a 25-person field program and successfully flipped all 10 of our targeted Republican-held House of Delegate seats.

We made aggressive heavy investments in field programs in three competitive special elections. Though Democrats came up short in these races, our field experiment results will guide us in running more effective voter turnout programs going forward.

In Montana’s At-Large Congressional District, we spent $225,000 on field staff, mail, and text messages in support of Democrat Rob Quist. In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, we hired 7 field staff who knocked 25,000 doors and worked with over 300 volunteers to make 16,000 phone calls. In South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, we spent five-figures on targeted voter turnout text messages.

Looking ahead to 2018, we are closely monitoring districts across the country before we decide where to invest our resources.

2015 – 2016

Progressive Turnout Project launched in July 2015 with a simple mission: get Democrats to the polls. In the 2016 cycle, we executed tailor-made Get Out the Vote programs in 19 competitive congressional districts around the country. In total, we reached out to more than 300,000 voters at their doors, on their computers, and/or in their mail boxes with a message focused on getting them out to vote for Democrats up and down the ticket.

Additionally, in the wake of the 2016 elections, we have launched the Progressive Turnout Project Community Action Network (PTP-CAN) to engage with supporters who want to get more directly involved in the political process. We have hired Regional Field Directors throughout the country who are organizing supporters to highlight damage being done by the Republican agenda. We also created a web platform that makes it easy for supporters to call their elected officials and speak out on a variety of issues. Check it out at www.turnoutaction.org.

ENGAGEMENT

PROVEN PROGRAMS

Our work in 2016 and 2017 has confirmed that turnout programs successfully mobilize voters and are worth the investment. In 2016, our field representatives knocked on more than 135,000 doors in Iowa’s first congressional district. The voters we spoke with at the door turned out at a rate of 12.1% higher than those in our control group. Read more about the different tactics used of our program in Iowa: Canvassing, Digital, and Mail.

Pre-Primary
January – April

Choose Districts: Identify competitive districts and provide hands on training to volunteers in those areas

Hiring: Begin building district teams and hire for District Directors & Field Representatives

Develop Materials: Refinement of training program and field materials (Canvassing Script, Commit to Vote Cards, Make a Plan to Vote, etc.)

Post Primary
May-October

Staff Training : Comprehensive training of field staff on how to engage with voters. Launch Program.

Phase I

  • Introduction Letter to Voters: Voter receives a letter from our field representative telling the voter they’ve been chosen to participate in a national voter turnout study and that the field rep will be coming to speak with them before the election.
  • 2nd Door Knock: The field representative returns a few weeks later if no one was home the first time. When they talk to the voter, the field rep engages them in deep conversation about voting, how it connects to the voter’s values, what issues are most important to the voter, etc. The field rep tries to get the voter to verbally commit to vote and complete a Commit to Vote card that would be mailed back to the voter shortly before the election.

GOTV Late October
Election Day

Commit to Vote: Voter receives by mail the Commit to Vote card they filled out the first time they spoke to the field representative.

Phone Calls: Field representative calls voter on the phone, thanks voter for commitment to vote, and reaffirms vote plan.

OUR TACTICS

Door to Door Canvassing:
Sending field representatives door to door to have meaningful conversations with voters is hands down the most effective way to increase turnout. Experiments have shown that conversations at the door increase turnout more than 7 percent and make a lasting impact on voting behavior1. Why does it work so well? Yale political science professors Donald Green and Alan Gerber write, “mobilizing voters is rather like inviting them to a social occasion. Personal invitations convey the most warmth and work best.”2 Like many of the techniques we employ, going door to door works because having an authentic human interaction makes people feel it matters to their community if they vote and that their community is going to hold them accountable.

Social Pressure Mailings:
While who you vote for is a secret, whether or not you voted is a matter of public record, and letting people know that is one of the most effective ways to increase turnout. Sending voters their own voting record or their community’s voting record has been proven to increase turnout as much as six to eight percent3. Mail of this kind is called social pressure mail, because it applies a bit of peer pressure to help people get civically engaged. It leverages our positive instincts, to be seen as a good community member and responsible citizens, to help get us to the polls. But these mailings aren’t a magic bullet. Making them as effective as possible without creating something off-putting to voters is a real challenge.

Texting and Digital Ads:
The way Americans consume media has changed dramatically. Americans don’t just watch TV and read newspapers anymore: they use the internet and social media at unprecedented rates and use mobile phones to do everything from paying bills to reading the news. While broadcast audiences continue to shrink, more than 75 percent of adult Americans have an active social media account4, and 92 percent of Americans have a cell phone5. Campaigns need to think hard about who they’re targeting and how to engage them on the platforms they use. But figuring out what does and doesn’t work on these new platforms is going to take some experimenting. PTP is doing pioneering research on how to use mobile phones and digital ads to reach the right voters and get them to the polls.

1Green, Donald P., and Alan S. Gerber. Get out the Vote!: How to Increase Voter Turnout. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2012. 139-40. Print.
2Green, Donald P., and Alan S. Gerber. Get out the Vote!: How to Increase Voter Turnout. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2012. 139-40. Print.
3Issenberg, Sasha. The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. New York: Crown, 2012. 12-13. Print.
4“Social Networking Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
5“Mobile Technology Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

A PROGRESSIVE FUTURE

OUR 2018 WATCH LIST DISTRICTS

OUR 2017 DISTRICTS

GA-06

Where: Northern suburbs of Atlanta
Incumbent: Open Seat
PVI: R+8
Election Date: June 20, 2017

Prior to his appointment as Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Republican Congressman Tom Price held this metro Atlanta district for more than a decade. Though historically a Republican area, this district is rapidly trending blue, and Trump won it by only one point. The district has a sizable 18-34 voting age population, a voting bloc rife with Democrats who are less likely to vote in non-presidential elections. In the run-off, Democrat Jon Ossoff faces Republican Karen Handel, who was forced from Komen after persuading the organization to end support of Planned Parenthood.

MT-AL

Where: Entire state
Incumbent: Open Seat
PVI: R+11
Election Date: May 25, 2017

Democrat Rob Quist, a famous local folk singer, is running for Congress against the 2016 Republican gubernatorial nominee, self-funder Greg Gianforte. Though the state can be challenging territory for partisan Democrats, Montana has a history of electing independent and populist Democrats in the vein of Quist, such as Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Jon Tester. Montana’s At-Large Congressional District was vacated when the sitting Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke was appointed to be Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.

SC-05

Where: North-central South Carolina
Incumbent: Open Seat
PVI: R+9
Election Date: June 20, 2017

Donald Trump’s appointing Mick Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget triggered this district’s special election, pitting Democrat Archie Parnell against Republican Ralph Norman. The rural district covers north-central South Carolina and was held by Democrat John Spratt for 14 terms.

Virginia House of Delegates

Where: Targeted Legislative Seats
Election Date: November 7, 2017

Republicans drew heavily gerrymandered state legislative seats after the 2010 census in an effort to lock in lopsided victories in a state trending blue. We are focusing our field efforts on ten Republican-held House of Delegate districts — Districts 2, 13, 21, 31, 42, 50, 67, 72, 73, and 94 — which were all won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. An open seat gubernatorial election, along with other statewide elections, will also be on the ballot.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you focused on congressional and state legislative campaigns?
Our mission, turning out inconsistent Democratic voters, has the greatest impact on congressional and state legislative races.

That’s because these races are generally voted on by fewer people, cost less money, and have fewer outside groups spending on them than statewide races.

As we execute and improve upon the best tactics to turn out Democrats, we can have an outsized impact on fighting back against the Republican agenda by focusing on these local races rather than statewide races.

How do you choose your districts?
In choosing what competitive congressional and state legislative seats to target in 2017-18, we will consider a number of factors including the partisan make-up of the district, how many inconsistent Democratic voters reside there, and the concentration of these voters.

We prioritize focusing on states that have especially egregious gerrymandered districts or odious voter suppression efforts.

What kind of impact will you make?
In the 2016 election, 18 congressional races were won or lost by 5 percent or less.

We know that boosting turnout by just a few thousand votes can make the difference in competitive races every cycle, and we aim to work in Congressional and State Legislative districts where our communication with Democratic voters can make the difference.

But there’s another important and complex reason that turnout matters: the difference between consistent voters and less consistent voters reflects not only a difference in privilege, but also a substantial difference in policy preference. Data shows 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 that government should work harder to reduce inequality. Empowering these voters gives them a more meaningful voice in electoral politics.

How do you raise your money?
We are a grassroots Political Action Committee (PAC) that relies on the activism of supporters nationwide to power our mission. More than 185,000 supporters have pitched in to advance the cause of getting Democrats to the polls. Our average contribution is only $12.

Do you work with campaigns?
We cannot coordinate our efforts with federal candidates. In most states, we cannot coordinate with state candidates, though those rules vary by state.

PTP’s field representatives keep their eyes open and ears on the ground to best ensure that we aren’t duplicating efforts.

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