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. Check it out at www.turnoutaction.org.
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: Canvassing, Digital, and Mail.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
OUR 2018 DISTRICTS
Where: Orange County
Challenger: Katie Porter (D)
Incumbent: Mimi Walters (R)
With #WheresMimi gaining popularity on social media, incumbent congresswoman Mimi Walters faces substantive pressure in the district she’s represented since 2014. The Republican does not have a primary challenger, but will face off against Katie Porter, a UC-Irvine professor. Since Porter’s primary victory, Walters has wasted no time in denouncing her opponent as a radical leftist. Porter is an accomplished attorney and law professor that has a close relationship with Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Challenger: Jason Crow (D)
Incumbent: Mike Coffman (R)
Rated by Cook Political Report as a tossup, Republican incumbent Mike Coffman will have to earn his re-election bid. This isn’t the first time that Coffman has faced a significant challenge for his job, but Democrats should prepare to send him packing in November by increasing turnout at the polls. Coffman receives significant financial support from the National Rifle Association despite the fact that he represents a district that houses the location of the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. Columbine High School is within close proximity to the district as well. The incumbent’s ties to the NRA are tremendously unpopular and could cost him come Election Day. For Democrats, Jason Crow, an attorney, won the nomination with ease and brings a much needed fresh voice to the district.
Where: Miami-Dade County
Primary Election: August 28, 2018
Incumbent: Carlos Curbelo (R)
The 26th Congressional district of Florida presents a tough challenge for Republicans as well as a reason for Democrats to be optimistic. Carlos Curbelo and Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell are virtually tied in fundraising, but the political makeup of the district makes it one to watch in 2018. The Tampa-Bay Times dubbed the district as “the most Democratic-leaning House district in the country currently held by a Republican running for reelection.” Curbelo’s support of the failed Affordable Care Act repeal earned him some strong opposition in the district that could prove detrimental if Democrats can get to the polls in strong numbers. Florida will also hold a Senate election this fall.
Where: Des Moines
Challenger: Cindy Axne (D)
Incumbent: David Young (R)
In this Republican-leaning district, incumbent David Young will have to fend off strong challengers if he hopes to keep his job. The candidates in the Democratic primary align closely to party norms on most policies making for a primary based solely on turnout and local support. Young is one of the many Republicans up for reelection facing backlash for NRA campaign donations in the wake of increased activism from young people across the nation. The seat was last held by a Democrat in 2010, but support for the party across the street has increased since the election of Donald Trump.
Where: Western Suburbs of Chicago
Challenger: Sean Casten (D)
Incumbent: Peter Roskam (R)
Republican incumbent Peter Roskam has faced significant criticism in IL-06 for his ties to the Trump administration, votes on health care, and gun control. His policies have sparked protests and increased activism across the district. Democratic nominee Sean Casten faces a tough path to victory given that Roskam won this district by 19 points in 2016. But times have seemingly changed. The nation is headed towards a blue wave and Peter Roskam is assuredly one of the many vulnerable Republicans facing a challenge in November.
Where: Kansas City
Primary Election: August 7, 2018
Incumbent: Kevin Yoder (R)
The district has changed since long-term incumbent Kevin Yoder first took office. Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016 despite Yoder’s significant margin of victory in the Congressional election. The third district is just outside of Kansas City, one of the most populous areas within the state. It is believed that President Trump and his allies do not have strong support in the more urban areas of Kansas which could create a challenge for Yoder as he seeks another term in office.
Where: Southeast Michigan
Primary Election: August 7, 2018
Incumbent: Open Seat
After David Trott’s decision to retire from Congress, the field for MI-11 is wide open. Though Trump won the district by five percent in 2016, the Detroit area is poised for a blue wave. Both parties have packed primaries vying for the nomination. Michigan will also hold a Senate election this fall.
Where: Twin Cities Metro Area
Primary Election: August 14, 2018
Incumbent: Jason Lewis
Republican Jason Lewis barely staved off defeat in 2016 with a slim two percent of victory over his Democratic challenger. The traditional swing district is up for grabs this year with two Democrats competing to unseat Lewis. Minnesota will also be defending two Senate seats this fall.
Challenger: Kara Eastman (D)
Incumbent: Don Bacon (R)
Don Bacon’s short tenure in Congress could burn to a crisp if Democrats show up at the polls in NE-02. The Republican Bacon won the battleground district in 2016 over a Democratic incumbent. The political makeup of the district assures a tight election once more this year. Kara Eastman had a shocking victory in the primary leaving Nebraska voters with a clear progressive choice at the voting polls this November.
Where: Northern New Jersey
Challenger: Mikie Sherill (D)
Incumbent: Open Seat
The retirement of Rodney Frelinghuysen creates an interesting story for the 2018 race in NJ-11. With five candidates running for each party’s nomination, the crowded race makes for a prime opportunity for Democrats to take the seat back. Mikie Sherill gives Democrats a great opportunity to flip this seat as she would give the district a fresh voice in Congress.
Where: Clark County
Challenger: Susie Lee (D)
Incumbent: Open Seat
After Jacky Rosen announced she would not run again in NV-03 to pursue a Senate bid, the race instantly attracted attention and many candidates on both sides. Rosen and Trump both won their respective races in the district in 2016 by about one point. The race is being targeted by Republicans as a potential pick up, which makes holding this district all the more vital for winning back a Democratic House majority in 2018. Susie Lee, the Democratic nominee, won the nomination with ease against a number of candidates.
Where: Catskills Region
Challenger: Antonio Delgado (D)
Incumbent: John Faso (R)
Democrats are looking to unseat first-term Republican John Faso, who voted In favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act. New York will also hold a Senate election this fall. Attorney Antonio Delgado won the nomination and will face off against first-term incumbent John Faso in November.
Where: Central Ohio
Challenger: Danny O’Connor (D)
Incumbent: Open Seat
Special Election Date: August 7, 2018
Incumbent Pat Tiberi resigned to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable, leaving the seat up for grabs in special election. Although the district leans Republican, momentum is on the side of the Democrats and turnout will be the deciding factor for victory. Democrat Danny O’Connor will face off against Republican Troy Balderson in the August special election. If elected, O’Connor will become the youngest member of Congress.
Where: Houston Metro Area
Challenger: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D)
Incumbent: John Culberson (R)
Although this Texas seat is traditionally thought of as safely Republican, the race has garnered national attention for a competitive Democratic primary with large fundraising numbers. The seat is now rated by Cook as a toss-up. In the Democratic primary, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher will face longtime incumbent Republican John Culberson in November. The energy on the left is real when seats like this are within grasp.
Where: Richmond Metro Area
Challenger: Abigail Spanberger (D)
Incumbent: David Brat (R)
While this district, once held by Eric Cantor, has usually been solid for Republicans, the 2018 race has drawn out many Democratic candidates for the seat. After historic wins for Democrats last year on the state level, the safety of Republican Virginia incumbents on the national election has also been called into question. PTP believes that high Democratic turnout can flip this district, just as it to so many others in 2017. Abigail Spanberger will run against Dave Brat for this seat in November.
Where: Northern Virginia
Challenger: Jennifer Wexton (D)
Incumbent: Barbara Comstock (R)
Republican Barbara Comstock is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents going into the midterms. The district was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 10 points and voted overwhelmingly for a Democratic governor in 2017. If Democrats want to take back the House this year, it starts with flipping this seat. Jennifer Wexton is thought to be a great candidate to defeat Comstock in November.
Where: Seattle Metro Area
Primary Election: August 7, 2018
Incumbent: Open Seat
After Republican Dave Reichert announced his retirement, Democrats saw a huge opportunity in the suburbs of Seattle. The district was carried by Clinton in 2016 and Democrats are hopeful that the Senate election will increase turnout going into the November general. There are seven Democratic candidates vying for the nomination. They will face off in a top-two primary in August.
Where: Kenosha and Racine Counties
Primary Election: August 14, 2018
Incumbent: Open Seat
Paul Ryan’s retirement comes as a blow to Republicans in WI-01 who were already facing a tough challenge from the other side. Steelworker Randy Bryce and school teacher Cathy Myers are facing off in the Democratic primary to challenge the Republican nominee. The outgoing incumbent Paul Ryan cruised to victory in 2016 against challenger Ryan Solen. Trump won Wisconsin by less than one percent with small margins of victory in the district as well.
A PROGRESSIVE FUTURE
OUR 2018 WATCH LIST DISTRICTS
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 2018 election, 43 House 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 281,500 supporters have pitched in to advance the cause of getting Democrats to the polls. Our average contribution is only $15.20.
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.