Monday, October 27, 2008

Political organising

Here are two absolutely outstanding pieces of writing about political organising, as relevant here in the UK as in America.

Zack Exley describes the grassroots, 'people's organisation' which the Obama campaign has built up.

'At the end of our meeting, my neighborhood team leader, Jennifer Robinson, totally unprompted, told me: "I'm a different person than I was six weeks ago." I asked her to elaborate later. She said, "Now, I'm really asking: how can I be most effective in my community? I've realized that these things I've been doing as a volunteer organizer—well, I'm really good at them, I have a passion for this. I want to continue to find ways to actively make this place, my community, a better place. There's so much more than a regular job in this—and once you've had this, it's hard to go back to a regular job. I'm asking now: Can I look for permanent work as an organizer in service of my community? And that's a question I had not asked myself before the campaign. It never occurred to me that I could even ask that question."'

Sean Quinn talks to the Chairman of the Albermale Republican Party in Virginia:

'Ten years of notes collected from door-to-door conversations with neighbors have given Republicans an incredible depth of knowledge about who their voters are, and even what's going on in their lives.

Modeled by Bell and adopted by the grassroots county volunteers, notes banked into the voter database and printed onto canvass walk sheets are extremely sophisticated. "Do they have a bumper sticker? Are they expanding their house? What signs are in the window? Are they repainting? Are their kids going to college?" When a Republican canvasser returns later to that same voter's door, he or she can ask, "'How's Sally doing at Virginia Tech?' Having that kind of database is a huge edge."

Schoenewald emphasized the value of literature drops at every single visit. "If you don't hand that person lit," he said, "you're only doing 10% of what you could have done." Comparing the local effort with the national campaign overlay during presidential years, Schoenewald contrasted the difference in control. "We always prefer doing it ourselves." The local lists are better and more detailed, and when there is more local control in the persuasion it's more effective voter contact.

This explains, in part, why Schoenewald would rather do away with the robocalls. They're just not high quality contacts. "Five to seven contacts to get a message through is the assumption. If we're only doing robocalls then the full seven is probably required." On the other hand, if contacts were simply a combo of personal door-to-door visits and direct mail, "only three touches" might be needed. Quality, quality, quality.'

If the Republican Party had more local parties like the one in Albermale, they wouldn't be facing a wipe out. And if the Democrats can keep building the local, grassroots organisation which has arisen this year after the elections for another ten years, who knows what they could achieve.

When we talk about modernisation and renewal of the Labour Party, we could do a lot worse than use these two examples as our inspiration.

4 Comments:

At 11:26 pm , Blogger labourparty said...

That database thing is old news! I did that in the early 1990s when I ran for the council.

My colleague and I spent a year systematically talking to every voter. As we went door to door, we would record the age and number of children; the schools they went to; OAPs in the household; number of cars; plus any issues they specifically identified. I would enter these details into a basic database which also had the electoral role on it.

Before the election started (and expenditure had to be logged) we sent letters to those with kids, OAPs, and high numbers of cars, detailing education, social services, and highways issues in their locality.

We also logged those with large numbers of adults in the household and sent them poll tax leaflets.

I was never supposed to win the ward (or so I was told later by my agent, who simply let me do what I wanted to do), Labour hadn't won it since the boundaries had changed in the 1970s after all.

Result? More than 50% of the vote in a 3-Party fight.

Sometimes being a geek has it's benefits!

 
At 11:29 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

That's excellent! I wish more Labour candidates were like that... :)

 
At 8:44 am , Anonymous Paul said...

Well there's quite a few of us around. 600% increase in Labour vote over since I started doing more or less what the US Republican guy put on the tin, and like Mr/Mrs Labour Party above a first ever win for Labour in an 'unwinnable' rural ward with a turnout in the top 2% nationwide(in 2007).

And I'm a paunchy middle-aged bloke, no oil painting, nor very articulate on the doorstep, so it's not about 'charisma'.

Problem is that the regional offices fight shy of the evidence that local really does have to mean local, as it militates against the ongoing urge to centralise and control the messages.

Even in my own patch, after a quick congratulation and adumbfounded 'how the **** did you manage that?', there's a continuing assumption that it's all just a bit freaky, and things like regular local newsletters with lots of detail about stuff are not suitable for the masses -and this often perfused with a frankly patronising attitude to those 'masses', who can't in some way be trusted with detail.

My sense is that it's at regional office level that stuff has got to change to allow for more local level work, and to start the US style rush to activism you describe. My regional office, for example, has studiously avoided recognition of the 10 page summary of the 'long campaign' I wrote back then.

 
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