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What is field organizing, and where do I start?

Field organizing is the act of one-to-one voter outreach. This is traditionally done through door knocking and phone banking, but due to the current pandemic, there has been a sharp shift in how political campaigns can run their field programs. 

Your field strategy will have a number of phases:

  • Voter identification
  • Voter persuasion 
  • Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV)

The ultimate goal of your field organizing program is to contact voters, identify those who support your campaign, and get them to cast their ballot for your candidate on election day. 

Field organizing requires a delicate balance of data insight and storytelling. When you first create your audiences you should be looking at stats like historical voting trends, demographics, high turnout precincts, and absentee ballot voters, then creating target segments for your volunteers to contact. Throughout your campaign, these audiences will change and develop based on how voters are engaging with your story and the narrative that your volunteers lead with when connecting to your target voters. 

Although there is power in human-to-human connection during all three phases of your field strategy, you can easily adjust your tactics for the current situation to bring your field program fully onlineand we’ll show you how.

Understand your voters and the data you collect

In every campaign, it is important to understand who your voters are and what kind of information they have shared with you outside of their role as a voter. This is even more important in a world when engaging with your voters in person is not possible. Be smarter about the data you collect, rather than just collecting more of it. Campaign teams that succeed know exactly why they need each data set they ask for and how it will be invaluable to their campaign. 

Make sense of the data you have, analyze it, and aggregate it to paint a more complete picture of the voters behind your database. It is the individuals behind the data that matter the most—whether they are voters, supporters, or volunteers.

Here are some important questions to think about when you are planning your virtual field program.

  • What are your target demographics? 
  • Which precincts have the highest turnout? 
  • Do you need to collect additional data consent to communicate with your supporters?
  • Which issues do your supporters care most about?
  • Who are the supporters you can distribute leadership to?

Personalize your voter communications

Conducting voter identification while not being able to talk to voters in person may seem daunting, but it can be done. It will be key to engage with voters where they are; some may respond on social media platforms, others may respond to calls or texts, and let’s not forget the age-old strategy of email outreach. All of these tools will enable you to have one-to-one and one-to-many conversations—and each of these interactions need to reflect the data you have collected about your voters. 

Voters are smarter than they have ever been, and they expect a personalized experience from the websites they visit to the emails they receive. To keep their attention, every communication should feel tailored and uniquely designed for them. Reflect back to your voters what they have done to support your campaign and what you need them to do next. This is a key tactic that increases trust in your message. Using tools that allow you to make dynamic asks based on historic engagement is not just a nice-to-have, but a necessity for voter engagement.

Now that communicating with your voters has shifted toward the virtual, things like rallies and knock-your-block canvass launches might seem like distant memories—but there are still ways you can do similar activities digitally. Before you cancel any in-person events you already had on the calendar, think creatively about how you can transform your content for virtual consumption. You can view our tactics and strategies on how to host virtual events here.

Think about the paths of engagement you want your voters to take throughout your campaign. For example, what are the steps necessary to turn a supporter into a volunteer or a volunteer into a donor? Once you have the right steps in place, you will be able to guide your voters down these paths, allow your campaign to build trust, and create leaders within your supporter base. 

People trust the leaders in their community, and when your candidate can’t be out on the road, it is vital to have your supporters act as local surrogates to keep voters engaged. By distributing leadership throughout your supporters, you boost your ability to communicate with voters directly.

Run an absentee ballot program 

A vote cast by someone who is unable or unwilling to visit a polling station is an absentee ballot vote. In the past, absentee voters traditionally skewed older in age and might have been serving in the military or living overseas. With physical distancing now in place across the U.S., the demographic makeup of absentee ballot voters is going to change drastically. Before COVID-19, absentee ballot programs were often put on the backburner of a campaign strategy, but this can no longer be the case.

Each state has its own regulations and requirements around who can vote by mail, so be sure to check what the requirements are in your state. We are currently seeing a push for all states to adopt new regulations around vote by mail so that more people can participate in elections and vote while under mandated stay at home orders. 

A number of election days have been postponed due to the pandemic, but for those running campaigns in states forging ahead with elections, it will be vital to run an absentee ballot program so voters have the relevant information to cast a ballot for your candidate when early voting or Election Day comes around. 

Some key tactics to implement for a successful absentee ballot program:

  • Understand your absentee voters. There will be permanent absentee voters in your district as well as people requesting a ballot for the first time. These audiences should have different outreach plans to optimize your campaign’s time and money.
  • Create a direct mail plan. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all direct mail plan for every campaign, but there is one important piece of mail that every campaign should aim to send out: a mailer that reaches your entire absentee voter audience, with segmented messaging relevant to each group, timed to hit mailboxes within the same week that the voters receive their ballots from the election department.
  • Organize your phonebanking strategy. Phonebanking is a key tactic to use to connect with your voters right now. It will be important to create scripts specifically for absentee voting that empower your volunteers to communicate the information voters need to cast an absentee ballot and express the urgency of submitting the ballot according to the state requirements. 
  • Modify your campaign’s digital and TV ads to focus on absentee voting. Absentee voting is not the norm for a lot of voters across the country. It will be vital to ensure your voters feel confident in how they can cast their ballot. This is an opportunity to use your ads to update voters with the relevant information and emphasize why absentee ballots are so important in 2020.
  • Be ready to iterate. Your campaign should be working with the local election office to get a daily list of voters requesting an absentee ballot, as well as a list of those who have cast their ballots. When you know who has cast a ballot, you can remove them from your direct mail program and digital ads, and save your campaign resources to reach voters who have yet to cast their ballot. 

Get out the vote (GOTV)

GOTV or Get Out the Vote is the final phase of any campaign. At this point, you’ll have completed the phases of voter identification and persuasion, and are now focused solely on moving your confirmed supporters to cast their ballot. The name of the game is making sure every single one of your identified supporters actually casts a ballot and votes for you.

This phase of the campaign is normally the last one-to-two weeks before the election and usually leans heavily on in-person engagements, from candidate stop-bys, to door knocking, and everything in between. In a time of physical distancing, campaigns will need to rethink how they resource this time and consider extending the GOTV period to align with vote by mail deadlines. 

As with all other phases of your field effort, your GOTV program needs to be targeted—make sure that you are getting your supporters, and only your supporters, to cast their ballots. Your GOTV program won’t be as effective if you are contacting all voters, including your opponent’s. As with your absentee ballot program, you need to be ready to iterate and update your audiences based on the data your team is collecting on the voters who have already cast their ballots, so you can keep focusing on the right people.

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