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 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.

In 2018, we are initially investing in 18 competitive congressional districts.

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. 

Timeline

  • 2015: Progressive Turnout Project launched!
    2016: Executed GOTV programs on the ground in 6 competitive congressional districts, and via digital, mail, and phones to 13 more
  • 2017: Ran a robust field program in Virginia, flipping 10 Republican-held House of Delegates Seats. Made investments in competitive special elections ( GA-06, MT-AL, SC-05, AL-SEN)
  • 2018: Ran targeted voter contact programs in 104 competitive races across the country, resulting Democrats picking up 44 congressional seats and taking back the House of Representatives
  • 2020: Defend our Democratic majority in the House and take back the House and Presidency!

ENGAGEMENT

PROVEN PROGRAMS

Our work in 2016, 2017, and 2018 has confirmed that turnout programs successfully mobilize voters and are worth the investment. In 2018, we were on the ground in 18 congressional districts. In every district, voters we talked with turned out a higher rate than their peers. Read more about the different tactics used of our program in Iowa: CanvassingDigital, and Mail.

PRE-PRIMARY
JANUARY – APRIL

Select Districts: In 2018, we were on the ground in 18 congressional districts. In every district, voters we talked with turned out a higher rate than their peers.

Hire: Begin building district teams and hire motivated, local staff (District Directors and Field Representatives).

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

Target Our Voter Universe: We use voter file data to select the group of voters our experiment will ideally target. These target voters are inconsistent, likely Democratic voters in highly competitive districts and states.

POST PRIMARY
MAY-OCTOBER

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

Door Knocking: A Field Representative knocks at a voter’s door and engages them in deep conversation about voting, how it connects to the voter’s values, what issues are most important to the voter, etc. Our staff then gets the voter to verbally commit to vote and complete a Commit to Vote card that will be mailed back to the voter shortly before the election.

Make a Plan to Vote: The Field Representative returns to the voter’s door, thanks the voter for their commitment to vote, and asks about their plan to vote. Field Representative leaves the voter with a magnet outlining the voter’s personalized vote plan and answers any other questions about how to vote or the candidates. Field Representative sends a thank you postcard in following days.

GOTV LATE OCTOBER
ELECTION DAY

Commit to Vote: About a week before Election Day, the voter receives by mail the Commit to Vote card they filled out the first time they spoke to the Field Representative.

Text Messages: If the voter opts in to receiving text messages, the Field Representative texts the voter a reminder to vote on Election Day.

Phone Calls: The Field Representative calls voter, thanks them for their commitment to vote, reaffirms their personalized vote plan, and answers any other questions the voter has about voting (polling place, polling hours, ID requirements).

Digital: A segment of our experiment universe receives three phases of digital ads, mirroring our three phases of messaging used in conversations at the door.

Mail: The target voter receives three different pieces of social pressure mail. The first mailing is a letter containing each person’s individual vote history, informing the target that he or she was part of a study on voting behavior. The second mailing, which the voter receives a few days after the first letter, is a postcard that includes a sample ballot and a sample vote plan. The third and final mailing arrives a few days before Election Day and had a simple and direct social pressure message.

OUR TACTICS

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.

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. To date, we’ve knocked on over 2 million doors and collected 75,000 commitments to vote.

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 8%3. 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 good community members 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. To date, we’ve sent more than 2 million pieces of social pressure mail.

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% of adult Americans have an active social media account4, and 92% 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. To date, we’ve made more than 1 million calls, sent more than 200,000 peer-to-peer text messages, and garnered over 7 million impressions on digital ads.

TAKE ACTION TODAY

COMMUNITY ACTION NETWORK

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Where do you focus your efforts?
Because our efforts focus on likely Democratic voters, we prioritize programs where we can have the biggest “bang for our buck.” For example, in a presidential battleground state like Michigan, we would likely base our efforts in a competitive state house district in one of the state’s competitive congressional districts. In that scenario, we would positively increase turnout for at least three Democrats on the ballot.

How do you choose your districts?
We consider a number of factors including the partisan makeup of a district, previous election results, how many inconsistent Democratic voters reside there, and the concentration of these voters. The stronger the synergy among these factors, the more likely we are to have a strong impact in the election.

What kind of impact will you have in these districts?
In the 2018 election, 50 federal 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 across the country and ultimately in our fight to take back the Senate and White House. That’s why we focus on states and districts where our one-on-one conversations with inconsistent Democratic voters can make the difference between winning and losing.

But there’s another important and complex reason that turnout matters: the difference between consistent voters and inconsistent 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 Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, debt free college, and a higher minimum wage. Empowering these voters gives them a more meaningful voice in electoral politics.

How do you raise your money?
We are a grassroots-funded organization powered by more than 3 million supporters nationwide. More than 281,100 donors have pitched in to advance the cause of getting Democrats to the polls. Our average donation is only $15.20.

Do you work with campaigns?
Whenever possible, we coordinate our efforts with candidates, committees, and state parties. We recognize that we have an even greater impact when we work together to get out the vote. Additionally, coordination allows us to point our supporters in the right direction when it comes time to volunteer.

In some rapid response cases, we run independent expenditure programs where we operate independently of national and state parties as well as candidates.

Didn’t see an answer to your question? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll provide you an answer as soon as possible!