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Political Campaign Evolution ‒ The Future Of GOTV

Written by: John Brison, PoliticalVIP Strategist and Field Operations Expert and Albert Trombetta, PoliticalVIP Director of Global Marketing


“The goals of a ground game are simple. The campaign seeks to ensure that every identified supporter casts their ballot. That is why campaigns go through such lengths to not only appeal to voters but to also identify and track them along the way. The crucial final moments of a campaign decide the outcome of any close election.”

Get Out the Vote (GOTV) is a political campaign engaging in on-the-ground efforts to mobilize voters and get them to the polls on Election Day, or as soon as early voting begins. The campaign will have spent months or years tracking and identifying their own supporters and likely supporters in their voting pool. Once the polls open, GOTV begins. This is the ultimate act of ensuring that your supporters have voted and will reach the polls before closing. Teams composed of staff and volunteers are organized and dispatched to targeted areas to knock on doors and distribute literature, while others phone bank and text bank back at headquarters. Team members provide transportation to the polls for those who are identified. It’s a marathon not a sprint until the election season approaches. Then it becomes an all-out sprint to the finish to drive voter turnout and get people to the polls. This is the culmination of often a year plus of campaign efforts including ramping up the ground game towards election day.

“Digital channels such as email automation, social media, and texting continues to expand the ways in which voters can be contacted with personalized methods.”

The building blocks of the modern methodology of GOTV were laid in the late 19th and early 20th century. Direct mail and leafleting door-to-door were common practices. In the 20th century, as phones became more commonplace, they quickly became the most efficient way to make voter contact. As technology continues to evolve in this 21st century, so has the methodology employed by campaigns. Digital channels include email automation, social media, and texting which continues to expand the ways in which voters can be contacted through personalized methods. As the number of data points continues to increase, so does the value of analytics. Campaigns can create a more comprehensive profile for each voter. When properly utilized, analytics can provide a better understanding of voter preferences, habits, and tendencies.

“In the past, phone banking, like canvassing was basically a paper and pen exercise.”

“We are entering a post-paper era and have traded in the pen for a stylus.”

Phone Banking has always been a key fundamental for any modern GOTV campaign as the process allows staff and volunteers to have one-on-one conversations with voters and answer any questions that they may have. In addition, the shared experience is great for campaign team building. In the past, phone banking, like canvassing was basically a paper and pen exercise. The campaign would provide workers sheets of paper with voter information and a script and have them go down the list making calls. In those days (especially with Caller ID,) it could be a real exercise in patience with most not even picking up the phone. Then, it was the responsibility of the campaign to have a solution on-hand where they can store and share all that data. Fast forward to the campaign of today. The advent of readily available personal technology devices changed the game. We are entering a post-paper era and have traded in the pen for a stylus. Any volunteer with a smartphone or laptop is ready to get started. GOTV software provides a digital one-stop-shop interface for both the campaign and the volunteer/staffer. Scripts can be written and stored to serve a rotating mission. One day you could be talking about the candidate, the next day the subject could change to a fundraising mission. Toward the end of the campaign, technology can be used to send reminders about the voting process and what to do to encourage supporters to go out and vote. Specific groups of voters can be targeted to narrow or expand the focus of the mission. The volunteer or staffer in-turn has access to the information of the voter, the script, and the ability to record responses, all within one convenient space. Even the process of trial-and-error with calling voters and waiting for a pickup has been accounted for. Auto-dialers will run through a list of numbers until the voter answers the call, at which time the call is routed to the volunteer/staffer who can have that conversation with the voter.

Beyond phone banking, an essential part of any campaign is the use of smartphones. Smartphones have been of particular use to the campaign. Recent cycles have brought about the advent of P2P (Person to Person) texting software. Similar to phonebanking, a script can be loaded by the campaign, along with a list of voters to reach out to. Multiple responses can be loaded and are ready to send to the voter, providing controlled messaging capabilities while providing the ability to answer basic questions. While it lacks the warmth and character of the human voice, it gives the individual the opportunity to reach arguably a larger amount of people in a shorter period. Making phone calls can be a source of anxiety for some first-time volunteers, and P2P texting removes that barrier. These first-time conversations can often be difficult. Any time you are talking about politics, people get heated and so patience is required to help get those over this aspect of the job. While P2P texting is great, our opinion is that this cannot replace Phone Banking entirely since it is important to continue having human-to-human conversations. Enthusiastic individuals can demonstrate why they are working or volunteering for the candidate which can help the voter make their own decision on whether they would like to support the candidate. If anything, technology will continue to be more symbiotic in future cycles, providing for a division of labor, and continuing conversation in a way that you cannot achieve with phone banking. Someone can text the campaign back at any time and the campaign will see the message which gives you more control over the hours during which you engage in voter contact.

The final aspect discussed here when talking about any successful GOTV operation involves canvassing. Canvassing is the practice of sending people out into the field to gather information, gauge support, and to get campaign literature into voters’ hands. The mission can change based on where you are in the election cycle. Typically, toward the end of a campaign, the mission is directed at getting people to the polls and getting that campaign literature into their hands. And much like Phone Banking, existing technology now is a stark contrast compared to where it used to be. As recent as a few cycles ago, this was also a pen and paper game. You would be handed a clipboard with voter information, including addresses with a script, and basically you would go from house to house within a defined area to talk to voters. There really wasn't a way to do this efficiently without the use of directions via a smartphone (if you had one). Fast Forward to today, and this has completely changed. In some cases, campaigns use tablets for canvassing, but most of the time the smartphone for volunteers and staffers is all you need which includes all the functions of canvassing and is much easier than having to carry around literature. Canvassing software displays the closest houses based on your location and includes voter information and any scripts. The software also registers voter responses that can be recorded as data by the campaign. With the advent of canvassing software, areas where the campaign wants to canvas can now be easily divided up and assigned in a practice called “Turf Cutting”. This digital turf cutting goes beyond just making an assignment more efficient by making these turfs manageable for canvassers. In considering factors such as large obstructions (major freeways, public transport rail lines, rivers, etc..,) or how many houses a canvasser could visit in a several hour period, the software will provide a visualization of the canvass area.

While building campaign outreach operations to voters is great, unless you can store that data, much of the hard work is put to waste. Utilizing momentum of the campaign might be able to get you across the finish line on election day, but it doesn’t really build for the next campaign or the one after that. Most candidates do not run in one-cycle and just call it a day. Many will run for different offices within multiple concurrent cycles, and some will run to get re-elected to the same office multiple times in multiple cycles. That data you harness in the first campaign is useful for the next campaign. It gives you an idea of who might support this candidate or others again with their vote or by volunteering and or donating to the campaign. It is important to remember that from cycle-to-cycle (especially in recent cycles,) new data points have emerged and ways to make connections from voter habits or demographic trends can also tell you how likely they are to vote a certain way. Why start from scratch, when you can start with a solid foundation of data that builds from cycle-to-cycle?

“It’s the communication of passion for a cause, hitting on the points of a campaign platform that gets people to vote for the candidate...”

Campaigns of the future should consider it crucial to staff up with individuals who are knowledgeable in GOTV technologies, who know how to train, and how to run the backend of the software provided to them. Staff management must also know how to manage the field workload of subordinates. This up-and-coming generation of volunteers and staff has a high level of technological literacy that campaigns will be able to capitalize on as technology continues to evolve. Certainly, there is an abundance of talent in the world of politics, talent that may even be worth looking into for private sector hires. PoliticalVIP provides skilled consultants who collectively have over 500 years’ experience and have worked with the private and public sectors. Our consultants understand technology and its importance to the campaign. Should your campaign need the services of experts who can manage your expectations, please visit our website to contact us.

With certainty AI will play some role in upcoming races and future campaigns, writing scripts, optimizing language to communicate with voters, and maybe even in terms of responses with P2P texting and automated turf cutting. AI chat programs are having a moment, and expanding this technology within reach of all of us is beneficial so campaigns can make use of technological advances. Harnessing the power by virtual means of communicating with voters is crucial. Take for example town hall events. With what used to be in-person exclusive events to answer voters' questions can now be hosted from anywhere to anyone. In-addition, virtual messages from the campaign or the candidate can be sent over social media, email, or directly addressing the issues they care about and why voters should vote for them. It’s not hard to imagine that as virtual reality technologies advance, you could see town halls where it’s almost as if you are in the room with the candidate. All that being considered though, it’s crucial for campaigns to keep in mind not to lose touch on how important real conversations and visibility amongst the electorate are in getting elected. Conversations where volunteers and staffers discuss why they are supporting the candidate and giving their time have an effect. It’s the communication of passion for a cause, hitting on the points of a campaign platform that gets people to vote for the candidate and this will always be absolutely worth it.

“Canvassing cannot be discounted.”

“While the world of politics may seem distant, a separate sphere operating outside of the world of the private sector, the effects of technological innovation in politics will impact the private sector.”

This is not 1988 anymore, the age of the clipboard and the landline is over. Campaigns become more mobile and dynamic with every passing cycle. While the world of politics may seem distant, a separate sphere operating outside of the world of the private sector, the effects of technological innovation in politics will impact the private sector, as well. Campaigns that stay on the cutting edge of dynamic voter outreach will be most effective in contacting every possible voter and have the best possible opportunity to Get Out the Vote. It’s evolve or get left behind, that’s the name of the game.

Albert Trombetta, PoliticalVIP Director of Global Marketing
John Brison, PoliticalVIP Strategist and Field Operations Expert

Any campaign needs are quickly addressed by our consultants. Please go here to learn more about what we can do for you.




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