In the 2014 Vancouver municipal elections, voter outreach strategies (carried out by the electoral office) were remarkably successful. They increased voter turn -out to a whopping 43.4%. Comparatively, the voter turn-out in the previous 2011 elections was only 34.6%

Achieving almost a 10% increase in total voter turn-out is not easy. But it can be done – with targeted voter outreach strategies.

This post can help you with that. You will understand the various voter outreach strategies that you can use. It will also give you insights on when and how to implement each of them so as to get maximum impact.

What kinds of outreach strategies can you implement?

All voter outreach strategies can be categorized into a ‘Hot’ outreach technique or a ‘Cold’ one. Depending upon the extent of  impact you want to achieve with your electorate, you can choose which outreach to implement.

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Pic courtesy: ndi.org, voter contact

For instance, a direct conversation (while door to door canvassing) is a hot technique. It is personal and has a high chance of leaving a favorable impression with the voters. 

However, a facebook ad or a bill-board is relatively a cold technique (especially if it doesn’t stand out). The voters may not remember your message, and thus not act.

Voter segmentation and targeted messaging add a lot of nuances to this entire concept. Let me give you one more example that can better explain this.

Instead of a generic Facebook ad, if the ad has specific messaging about an issue that the voter cares about, it will have more impact. For instance, it was seen that millennials care about their credit scores (for securing loans/credit cards).

So, your Facebook ad can talk about how your candidate’s policy can help improve credit scores. The millennials to whom this ad is targeted will then remember you (and can even be persuaded to vote for you). Thus, in this context, Facebook ads become a ‘hot’ technique. 

The 7 Voter outreach strategies you can use

For you to decide between a ‘hot’ or a ‘cold’ technique for your campaign, let us first understand the various outreach strategies at your disposal. Here are a few popular options that you can choose from.

Door to door canvassing

Involves a systematic approach of reaching your voters right at their doorstep. Your volunteers have a list of addresses whom they should contact every day. At each door they knock on, they engage the voter in a meaningful conversation and encourage him/her to cast a vote in your favor. 

What kind of impact does it have?

In the 2012 French elections (Francois Hollande Vs. Nicolas Sarkozy), door to door campaign played a pivotal role. In the span of 3 months (From Feb 2012 to May 2012), 80,000 volunteers knocked on 5 million doors. Though they were part of Hollande’s campaign, their primary goal was to get the voters to turn up to vote. 

While it did not majorly affect voter turn-out, this initiative was responsible for 3.8% of Hollande’s vote-share (and thus instrumental in his victory). 

“The canvassing campaign accounted for approximately one-half of Hollande’s lead in the first round and one-fourth of his victory margin at the second round.”

Vincent Pons, National Director, field campaign
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Pic Courtesy: American Economic Review

However, as Pons later remarks, this result was rather ‘surprising.’ Typically door to door campaigns is used as part of Get Out The Vote strategies. 

Let us go back to the same Vancouver elections example. Here the door to door campaigns was conducted by a nonpartisan body (the electoral office). It resulted in over 80,000 voter registration lookups, including 6,000 new registrations and 16,000 updates.

So it can be safely concluded that door to door canvassing has a tangible impact on two key aspects:

  1. Swaying voter support
  2. Encouraging voter turnout

You can definitely use this outreach strategy for your campaigns and achieve either of these goals.

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

Worldwide door to door canvassing is the voter outreach strategy that has the highest impact. Because it is extremely personal and facilitates a conversation, your volunteers leave a lasting impression on the voters (read = ‘hot’ technique).

They talk to voters one at a time and hear their problems (or their take on a campaign policy), first hand. Based on what they hear, they can tailor their message to each individual voter (or household).  

What does it need?

Despite its acclaimed success door to door campaigns are not used as extensively as other outreach strategies. That is because:

  • Needs trained volunteers: They should be able to converse intelligently on your party policies and be able to sway voter support.
  • Ample time and resources: It is a highly time-consuming exercise. Every volunteer will take at least 5 minutes (or more) at each door – thus limiting the number of people he can talk to.
  • It entails specific voter targeting: You do not want your volunteers to encourage opposition to vote. Worse, you do not want them to waste their time arguing with a staunch non-supporter about your party policies.  

So before you decide to use door-to-door campaigns, have a realistic assessment of the resources at your disposal. You should be able to recruit, train, and enable volunteers on a massive scale to make this a success.

Community Meetings/events

In small elections, community meetings are where the candidate meets the local community to talk to them about the issues they consider important. It could be a ‘coffee session’ or a gathering at a local community center. 

For bigger elections (federal elections), such face to face contact with the candidate happens via events/debates. The candidate addresses a group of supporters in a given area. He/she explains the impact the party’s policies have on that area (and to the people in general).

What kind of impact does it have?

The 2019 Canadian Federal elections saw a close race between the Conservatives and Liberals. While the Liberals fought to retain their majority, the Conservatives came real close in wresting power from them. 

Both these parties had a similar campaign strategy. They conducted face to face campaign rallies in their major supporter regions to consolidate power. The campaigns were even more aggressive in battleground states.

Here are the results:

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The conservatives won a sweeping victory in Alberta and Saskatch, with a reasonable win in B.C. Meanwhile, the Liberals took over Toronto, Ontario, and Quebec – as they intended.

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

Meeting the candidate face to face gives the voters a chance to understand his party’s policies and the changes he envisions for his office. More importantly, it also gives them an opportunity to pose questions to the candidate.

“Personal messages are more effective because they increase the social connect between the potential voter and the political process.”

– Dale and Strauss, American journal of political science

Community meetings organized by the electorate also work in improving voter turn-out. Though these are nonpartisan meetings, the voters learn valuable information about the election process – and find it easier to cast a vote. 

What do you need?

Community meetings and campaign rallies are tough to organize. You need a dedicated campaign manager who would see to all the little things. 

You will also need a communication software (like CallHub) to keep up with the volunteers, manage them, and send them regular updates. 

If you are running for the local election, then these face to face meetings would be ‘coffee’ meetings. In this case, you just need a good set of volunteers who will be ready to host the sessions at their place and invite their friends over.

SMS or mobile updates

SMS communication (or updates via mobile) is the next best thing to direct communication. It involves sending updates or reminders to your supporters and encouraging them to take action. These SMS are not sent from your cell phone, but from a texting tool (like CalHub).

There are two ways to send such SMS communication:

  1. Bulk SMS: A single SMS is sent to every supporter in your list at the click of a button. You have an option to handle every response you get automatically.
  2. Peer to peer SMS: A volunteer engages with every supporter on your list in a one on one conversation. The initial text that sent is the same. However, subsequent messages are customized based on how each supporter responds.

What kind of impact does it have?

In the 2006 elections (the ‘Republican Revolution that outvoted George Bush), voters getting text reminders voted at a rate 3.1 percentage points higher than those who did not. These SMS were primarily bulk texts that reminded supporters to register their support. 

The NDP party Leadership race (in 2017) saw Jagmeet Singh’s campaign using P2P texting to great effect. Their supporter segment had a turnout rate of as high as 70%. This is an incredibly high number, especially in comparison to the overall turn-out rate of 52.8%. 

In the BC party Leadership race (2018), Diane Watts party used P2P texting to talk to more than 25,000 voters. Based on their responses, they identified supporters and also swayed them to their side. The staffers saw a 20% response rate, with 4.8% stemming from previously unknown supporters.

So you can use texting in your campaigns to:

  1. Identify supporters in a voter segment (by P2P texting)
  2. Persuade swing voters from the voter list (via P2P conversations)
  3. Encourage supporters to Get Out The Vote (using bulk SMS)

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

There are two aspects that contribute to the efficiency of texts in communication. The first is the unique advantage that is provided by the channel. SMS communication is hard to ignore. With 90% of the texts sent being read in the first 3 minutes, your texts definitely have a higher chance of being read (than say, emails). 

The second is that SMS communication does not happen without voter consent. So if a voter signs up to know more about your campaign, he is automatically more receptive to your messages. So, even bulk SMS (that are impersonal) have a greater impact on him. 

What do you need?

Because of how receptive SMS is as a platform, it has seen a drastic increase in usage in all political campaigns. It is relatively simple to set up.

  • A texting tool (like CallHub) that can handle the bulk volume of texts you send. The shared dashboard will enable your volunteers to keep data secure and track campaign performance.
  • Volunteers: The number of volunteers you need for SMS campaigns is drastically less when compared to other direct forms of contact. If you are sending bulk SMS, all you need is one volunteer to set up and monitor the results. For a peer to peer campaign, a volunteer can send 2500 texts in an hour. So your volunteer number will depend upon the number of voters on your list.

So SMS campaigns are a solid option to communicate and engage with your voter list. Just remember to get their consent before talking to them. This GOTV guide can help you further.

Phone banking

During your political campaign, a part of your outreach strategy encompasses phone banks. Volunteers come together on a day and make calls from a phone-banking software to every name on the voter list. 

The objective of this exercise is not to convince the voters about anything. The objective is to encourage voters to participate in the elections by turning up to vote. 

What impact does this have?

Before the age of cellphones, phone-banks were remarkably successful. In under 3 minutes, volunteers could talk to voters and encourage them to turn up to vote. 

In the 2010 US elections (the one after Obama office), the Democrats lost. A huge part of the defeat was attributed to the poor turn out of democratic supporters at the polls.

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Pic courtesy: Political charge

With phone-banking campaigns to get out the vote, this unfortunate situation could’ve been easily avoided. 

A crucial aspect of phone-banking is calling up only supporters from your list. That means, before using phone-banks for GOTV, you will use the same phone banking to ID voters. 

Contrary to previous studies, we find that this kind of targeted follow-up greatly increases the effectiveness of phone-bank campaigns; in some cases, almost tripling their effect on voter turnout.

Melissa R. Michelson, Lisa García Bedolla, and Margaret A. McConnell, Journal of Politics

Based on their stance on certain policies of your party, you can easily know whether they are your supporters are not. 

Once you have ID’d the supporters, you can send them targeted communication and messages. So, you can use phone-banking in your political campaign to:

  1. ID supporters from a given voter list
  2. Recruit passionate supporters to become volunteers
  3. Follow up with supporters to GOTV

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

Calling campaigns to targeted voters as a follow-up (to either GOTV or turn up for volunteering) is immensely effective. Since the voters whom you call have already had an interaction with you and are committed to hearing from you, they will not see phone-calls from your campaign as ‘intrusive.’ 

We have already seen how important personal messaging is in influencing voter support.  A personal phone-call that reiterates the message, positively impacts voter behavior.

What do you need?

Phone-banking campaigns are not easy to organize. They have to be done at the right time of the entire campaign strategy – too early in the campaign, and you risk annoying the voters. Too late into the campaign, and it won’t have the intended impact. 

  • A phone-banking software – (like CallHub). Use a tool that allows you to talk to your voters via phone and text. CallHub enables that – thus making it a lot easier for your volunteers to keep up with the responses.
  • A group of trained volunteers – A volunteer should know how to handle a voluble voter. He should also be able to speak intelligently on the campaign policies.
  • An excellent phone-banking script – Even the best-trained volunteers will need a script to follow. The script should anticipate all possible voter responses and be written accordingly.
  • The voter list: Last but not the least, you need a list of voters to call – if only to refine them further into supporters and non-supporters. This could be easier if your phone- banking tool offers integration with publicly available voter list (For instance, CallHub integrates with L2).

If and when you opt for phone-banking in your political campaign, remember to have these basics ready – so as to get the most from the entire exercise.

Social media

Using Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to reach the voters is a powerful way to mobilize them. You can use either paid channels (like Facebook Ads) to target specific campaign messages to voter segments. Or, you can organically share campaign messages via your social media page. 

Alternatively, you can also have your volunteers and supporters share your posts (and their views of your campaign) within their network.

What impact does it have?

The Obama campaign is widely acclaimed to be the first to use social media in elections effectively. Obama took to Twitter to announce his re-election campaign. 

The Presidential debates, later on, saw a huge number of Twitterati actively discussing the ongoing debate between Romney Vs. Obama. Mitt Romney’s speech peaked at 14,000 tweets per minute. (TPM) Michelle Obama in her convention speech doubled that to 28,000 – and Barack Obama then took it up to 54,000 TPM

Once elected as President, he also ran a Twitter chat to engage with the electorate and answer his questions. The famous #AskObama chat had more than 70,000 tweets.

More recently, in the 2019 Canada elections, Obama again took to twitter to convey support to Trudeau’s leadership. Take a look at the amount of engagement his tweet received:

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With more than 3 million likes, this tweet was a strong recommendation to the liberals in Canada to choose Trudeau over other left-wing competitors.

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

Social media is the platform that directly communicates to the millennials (the segment of the population that is notorious for not voting). Such persistent engagement was instrumental in putting Obama in office.

Social proof is a powerful motivator. When a volunteer/supporter shares your post, he is effectively advocating your party (and policies) within this network. 

This helps convince swing voters in his network to root for you. This impact is even more profound when an influencer endorses or shares your party messages. Not only does it reach a huge network but the chances of influencing swing voters are also more. 

There is also a certain aspect of peer pressure involved. Every time a supporter posts on social media that ‘he has voted,’ it forces his peers also to cast a vote – pressure to conform to popular choice. 

Finally, social media offers the opportunity to talk to the candidates once again, via a one on one personal channel. It also allows supporters to engage with each other and discuss the policies and their differences.

“Social media heralds the return to retail politics, the idea that people can be directly engaged in the political process on a one-on-one basis again, not only interacting with the candidate and issues but with one another.”

Adam Sharp, US Senate

What do you need?

Your social media campaign never sleeps. Once you decide to go online, you have to be ready to engage supporters and non-supporters from across the globe. Opening an exclusive social media account is a good start.

  • Social media campaign manager: Like your ground campaign, your social media strategy also has to be well thought. It cannot be reactive. A social media campaign manager can help with that. He/she can also direct ad spends to target specific voter segments online.
  • Social media account manager: He/She is required to engage with the enormous volume of tweets (24/7), it is easier to enlist the help of a professional account manager. They can intelligently respond to comments, share regular updates, and even tackle offensive comments (if needed).

Persuasive literature drops

Your volunteers go from door to door, distributing compelling campaign materials – pamphlets or brochures that encourage them to vote for you. This literature distribution can also happen during the events/rallies you conduct. 

What impact does this have?

To be honest, I am yet to find studies (and numbers) that solidly support the efficiency of this method.

However, a majority of the nonpartisan literature drops are centered around educating the electorate about the election procedure. In the 2015 Canada General elections, the voter turnout was at an all-time high of 68%. A part of this is attributed to the efforts of Elections Canada that distributed educative material on the election process and helped voter registration.

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

For partisan political campaigns, literature drops are usually targeted. It is used to reach out to voters in a district where you are fairly sure of support. 

It is also used as a follow-up tactic and not as the only source of contact with the electorate. 

More importantly, it allows volunteers to cover more ground (just a quick drop and leave), thus making the process more efficient.

What do you need?

Literature drops are a commitment heavy campaign strategy. Here are a few things you will need:

  • Campaign collateral: Compelling literature that actually motivates your electorate
  • Volunteers: Who are willing to do the drop from door to door
  • Voter targeting: Segment and target which doors to leave the literature in (though this won’t be possible if you are handing out literature at a rally – you cannot distinguish between a supporter and a nonsupporter).

Traditional media 

Using Radio, Television, Billboards, and snail-mail to communicate to voters. The mass media is generally considered ‘credible’ source and non-partisan. So, if your  campaign debate or rally gets covered in the local newspaper, then it is more eyeballs on your campaign.

What impact can it have?

Let me give you an example of how snail mail was effectively used in the 2012 Obama campaign. It was a close race – where they needed to win more supporters from Romney. 

Their campaign achieved this via snail mail.

They noticed that a large section of Republicans, who were women, were pro the women issues on abortion and equal pay endorsed by Obama. 

So, the campaign managers sent out a nation wise mail campaign that was specifically directed at women in the ‘non-supporters’ segment who were pro women issues. 

“The whole point of the exercise was to pick off votes for Romney.”

Terry Walsh, Coordinator, campaign polling, and paid media spending.

The results were impressive! This audience, which primarily consisted of single women in target swing states, was part of the 70% voter turn out that eventually won him the elections!

Why does this voter outreach strategy work?

Traditional media has always been the cornerstone of campaign success. In fact, in the 1990 elections, there was a whopping $203 million spent on spot ads alone.

There is a reason for that. Since way back in 1972, the research found that the public learned more about elections from ads than from news. It is because the Ads are more issue-based, while the news is dominated by the rat race between the candidates.

Secondly, familiarity is an important aspect of winning. That is unless the voters are familiar with the candidates, and with his policies, they will not vote (or waste their vote) on him.

Despite the increasing costs of running say, a snail-mail campaign, or a TV ad, it is undeniable that it is the easiest way to reach an entire household the quickest way possible.

What do you need?

Despite the various other outreach strategies at your disposal, ignoring traditional media is not a great move. It generates top of the mind awareness with your electorate. When targeted well, it can be hugely successful in swaying voter support. Before you begin, here are a few necessities:

  • An exclusive press campaign manager: A PR of sorts who only handles press coverage.
  • A good relationship with the media: so that journalists are happy to cover your stories
  • A separate media budget: Ad spends on TV and radio are not cheap (and unfortunately cannot be ignored).
  • Data-centric targeting: Instead of blindly running ads, look to data to see what kind of messages will resonate best with each voter segment.

You do not have to choose one or the other outreach strategies. For your campaign to be effective, it has to have an even (and sensible) mix of all the above methods. In fact, you should be able to use technology to combine multiple outreach strategies to figure out what works for you. 

Pic Courtesy: MIT Technology Review

Your secret weapon: why your voter outreach strategy can create more impact?

Because they were a nonpartisan civic body, the electoral office (of Vancouver) had a huge handicap. They couldn’t directly address the electorate’s growing disenchantment with politics.

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Pic courtesy: Haggarthehorrible.com

For instance, their campaign messages couldn’t talk about what the Incumbent has achieved in his term. It also couldn’t mention what the candidates in the running have to offer – to increase the electorate’s confidence in the system.

As a partisan political party, you do not have the same limitation. Every communication in your voter outreach strategy can address two key factors that influence voter behavior:

  1. Voter’s sentiments regarding your candidate running for office
  2. Political apathy and voter fatigue

Thus, your outreach strategy can address the root cause of the problem, rather than simply sending reminders and updates. 

Such messaging can have more impact on, say, getting youth to vote, than generic reminders. Remember to craft the perfect campaign message to encourage the electorate and thus win more votes. 

However, I would recommend you can try CallHub (it’s free) and see how receptive your voters are to text messages. 

Implement your voter outreach strategy now

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