Winning in ’14 means organizing in ’13

The battle lines in Washington, D.C. seem static: you have the Democrat-controlled Senate, the Republican-controlled House, and the President’s veto pen in a standoff.  The players are pretty much set on the chessboard, but no one is moving.  The legislative agenda hasn’t congealed yet; AdWeek even noticed the dearth of issue advertising.

Rest assured: America’s state capitals are making up for it.

Last week, Americans for Prosperity announced they will work to support Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed income tax cut.    Education reform debates have sprouted in Alabama and Ohio already this year.  Pennsylvania has considered privatizing its state-owned liquor stores; New Jersey is thinking about the same for its state lottery.

Heck, Rhode Island even named a state cartoon.  (Hint: It’s Family Guy.)

For candidates and issue groups looking toward elections in 2014 and 2016, these state-based issues and battles offer golden opportunities for organization.

After a grueling Presidential election and an apparently endless series of federal budget crises, voters may still be sick of hearing about national politics.  (A fair amount of folks who work in national politics are probably sick of hearing about it, too.)  The posturing plays out like predictable television dramas with familiar players.  Often, policy proposals are bogged down in process; and a hyper-partisan environment makes for fewer undetermined “swing votes.”

Meanwhile, state and local issues often involve ideas that haven’t been discussed over and over by talking heads on cable news.  Away from the D.C. spotlight, there is more room for Republicans and Democrats to seek common ground.  Perhaps more importantly, there is also more room for voter involvement.

By reaching out to voters and mobilizing them around state issues, campaigns and issue groups can begin building the volunteer and voter base needed for future ballot box victories.  Voters who take action now may self-identify crucial attributes such as issue preferences, favored mode of contact, and propensity for civic involvement.

Organizing around state-based policy discussions can yield information for a campaign manager that traditional attempts at voter identification might miss.  Turnout models may peg a hypothetical low-propensity voter as the type who would sit out mid-terms elections.  But when that voter responds to an online ad or a patch-through campaign, he or she has indicated an issue that moves him or her to action.  Further communication will yield more information.

The strategy of organizing around issues forces each voter to make a choice about whether that issue excites them or not.  By taking an action or refusing to do so, that voter shares a piece of information.  Enough of those pieces add up to a portrait of how to get that potential voter out to the polls.

President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign has been widely – and rightfully – praised for its use of data to connect with and mobilize voters.  But these concepts are not new, nor are they particularly hard.  Careful tracking will give a campaign looking to win in 2014 a virtual “how-to” manual for speaking to the voters they need for victory.

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