There probably won’t be an independent Presidential candidate

National Review hopefully touted a poll that showed 21% of the electorate would support a hypothetical third-party candidate.

Not so fast. As grassroots political consultant Chris Younce points out in a recent interview on some crummy little podcast, there are major logistical challenges to a candidate. It’s one reason why efforts to draft an independent ticket have failed so miserably.

But there’s another, bigger reason to take that poll with a grain of salt: There is no such thing as a “generic” independent candidate. As the survey shows, people across the board are dissatisfied with the parties’ nominees.

But each of the 997 survey respondents probably has their own idea of what that independent candidate might look like.

Any ticket that takes votes from Hillary Clinton is probably features a left-leaning candidate and siphons off disenchanted Bernie Sanders voters. Efforts to draft a “#NeverTrump” candidate have largely focused on Republicans who would give conservative base voters a place for this election.

In either case, once the “generic” independent becomes a real independent, those numbers will shift. An independent candidate will start out a lot lower than 21%.

You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and it’s getting to late to find another somebody.

Who’d respond to a conservative grassroots campaign? Norwegians would.

(Yes, that’s a pretty tortured Beatles reference, but Mama E would be upset if it wasn’t there.)

Norway has a center-right government now, led by the second female prime minister in their history, Edna Solberg.  Congratulations to Høyre, the Norwegian conservative party, that forms the backbone of the governing coalition.

Their success did not happen overnight.  Back in the summer 2009, the conservatives were decimated and trending downward.  Even the activists were wary or being active – knocking on doors for politics was viewed by some as an invasion of personal space, and no one wanted to be impolite.  (Imagine the political process being stymied because people are too polite.  Now there’s a foreign concept.)

There were, however, some very positive leaders within the party who appreciated the opportunities of technology and how it could help with a door-to-door and voter-to-voter ground game,  (They even brought in some bumbling American to help them make the case to their activists.)

This week, they realized the fruits of their efforts:

Conservatives in America can learn how to win elections from Erna Solberg and conservatives in Norway… For example, in the city of Hamar (population 29,000), the Conservative Party’s voter technology identified over 5,000 homes where the bulk of their base vote would come from.  

In the week leading up to the election, every identified home was personally contacted by a volunteer.  In addition, all identified conservative voters throughout the entire country received text messages on election day.


Unions Clamor For Smaller Government

This ad opposing Common Core standards popped up on a few right-leaning blogs this week, advertising the website


Clicking through led to this landing page:


Who’s behind these right-wing clarion calls to limit expansive government?  The AFL-CIO, of course.  They don’t particularly hide their involvement, but they don’t bang the drum to call attention to their funding either.

It’s actually a smart and mature move.  Opposition to Common Core education isn’t the sole dominion of people who would rather not see teachers held accountable; there are also people who hold principled stances against national standards superseding local control of education.

What would be interesting to know is how the AFL-CIO uses this data.  For an advocacy group, a list of people on the other side who agree with you on certain issues is an underrated asset.  If they can turn other policy positions into small-government arguments, they can go back to that list for future action.

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.

The Oncoming Gun Debate: Grassroots vs. Big Money

The types of donors who write big checks to super PACs are writing more to the Gabrielle Giffords-led group seeking to influence the upcoming debate on gun control:

Until now, the gun lobby’s political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer. With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.

On the other hand, the NRA faced enormous public pressure to cave to gun control forces in the wake of Sandy Hook, stayed silent for a week and then botched their first public statement after the massacre, and then added 100,000 new members in the ensuing weeks.  That’s 100,000 new NRA members in a month when the political environment should have been driving people away from the organization.  That doesn’t count what people within the NRA call “psychic members” – people who claim NRA membership due to an enthusiasm of the organization’s ideals but don’t chip in the $25 membership fee.

Speaking of that membership fee, some simple math means the NRA has raised $2.5 million of their own.  This week one donor gave $1 million to Giffords’s PAC.  While a handful of donors will likely raise millions at a time to support anti-gun politicians, the NRA will be able to raise dollars by the fistful from a much broader base of support.

If that model sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Obama 2012’s quarterly bragging that a wide base of small-dollar donors would trump Mitt Romney’s billionaire buddies (which it did).  Remember the Republican super PACs that tried to support Romney by spending huge amounts of money running constant TV ads opposing Obama’s reelection?  Remember how well that worked against Obama’s surgical GOTV efforts?  Exactly.

All else being equal, boots on the ground will trump money in the air.

The term “Astroturf” tends to be over-used in Washington.  But Giffords’ PAC is actually Astroturf: flooding money into the system to combat the organic political influence of 4.2 million Americans.  The NRA has a big idea (gun rights) and a big group of people who support it and are motivated enough to take action.  They’ll call their Members of Congress, they’ll talk to their friends and neighbors, and they’ll vote.

There isn’t a check big enough to buy that kind of influence.

The Left’s tea party

The left in American politics loves to claim the somewhat disorganized, unpolished Tea Party movement amounts to a hostile takeover of the GOP by fringe lunatics.  But to better understand the unrest that gave rise to the Tea Partiers on the right, one might look at what TechPresident called “The Obama Disconnect.”

When the Obama campaign of 2008 became the Obama government of 2009, it meant moving away from theoretical campaign promises and into the process of regulating and legislating.  Meanwhile, the famed campaign apparatus – including the 13 million strong database and the online infrastructure – became “Organizing for America,” or OFA

Now, activists are frustrated with OFA.  TechPresident chronicled the plight of Marta Evry, an Obama campaign worker who remained active after the election.  Evry is disappointed in the Administration’s efforts to pass a health care bill despite losses on key provisions for liberal ideology – points such as a public option and expanding abortion services.

It’s much the same energy that conservative activists have right now.  And just as Tea Party-inspired excitement does not necessarily translate to blind support for Republicans, left wing disillusionment with Democrat incumbents will soften their prospects in 2010.

Two campaign tools you don’t have to pay for

Google Wave is still a mystery to many folks – I have to confess, I haven’t spend a considerable amount of time pondering its potential yet.  But Wes Donehue of TechRepublican has, and he shares some ways to use this new tool for a cause or campaign:

Also at TechRepublican today: Jeff Vreeland has a good idea about using Facebook as a email match program.  Amassing email addresses has become a basic function of any organized effort, but an email address alone is worth little.  Using that information as a springboard for connecting on other platforms can help draw potential volunteers and donors into the fold.

That’s one small URL for the GOP…

The Republican Party caught plenty of deserved flack for the hamfisted rollout of its website this year, but in the last couple of days there has actually been a pretty innovative development from the online right: the URL shortener.

There are plenty of these handy devices for condensing website addresses, but is different because it frames every website with banners directing users back to the sign up and donate sections of the GOP website.

Playful pranksters have used the link to put the GOP brand around less-than savory sites.  And, as the Bivings Report notes, the banners take up lots of space and have no obvious method for users to get rid of them.

But it’s also significant that this is not, as of yet, an official RNC project.  Remember that during the 2008 campaign, the Obama campaign benefited from user-generated videos and iPhone applications.   Even their MySpace page was started by a supporter.

Political movements which are successful online or offline have major components which are created by activists outside of the major party.  That makes projects like important benchmarks to measure grassroots innovation – even if it isn’t perfect.

All activism must not be neutral

As the net neutrality argument heats up, pro-regulation groups are bashing AT&T’s efforts to mobilize their employees against the measure.  When AT&T sent an email detailing the issue and inviting workers to post comments opposing net neutrality, Free Press, a liberal media reform group, called them the a-word – “AstroTurf.”

Free Press, of course, admits to doing the same thing – but argues that their email messages to subscribers driving traffic to online comment forms are somehow different.  Their activists, apparently, REALLY oppose net neutrality; AT&T’s employees acting through fear of losing their jobs.

AT&T workers should be fearful of losing their jobs – regulating AT&T’s internet will have an impact on its bottom line.  Free Press has a flimsy argument if you think about it – but it certainly wasn’t made to evoke thought.

Whole Foods vs. Half-baked

whole_foods(1)(1)(1)Today I received an invitation to join the Facebook Group “Support Whole Foods and John Mackey.”  I knew, peripherally, that Mackey had written an op-ed that had drawn the ire of the supporters of government health care advocates, but I hadn’t ready his op-ed.  My interest was piqued.

There’s much more to Mackey’s article than simply a repudiation of the plans floating about Capitol Hill. Far from standing in the way of progress, Mackey actually makes the case for a different type of reform, outlining eight specific policy reforms.  Each would move health care decisions into patients’ hands – from breaking down interstate barriers on insurance sales to making it easier for employers to set up Health Savings Accounts for their employees.

Mackey is a good voice for this type of reform.  I would wager that most of his employees are not expecting to be life-long Whole Foods workers.  Like many Americans, they will change jobs and companies – and so for health care to be tied to their employment is as inconvenient as it is anachronistic.  Companies used to offer pensions, too; now they make contributions to 401(k) and IRA accounts – recognizing that they can, as part of a benefits package, offer an employment benefit that lasts beyond the term of employment.

Mackey has posed a new idea in the scope of the current debate – that individuals will need to take personal responsibility for their health care.  This is certainly a new way of looking at health care, and exactly the type of open and honest debate that we all should would welcome, right?  Well, not quite.  The other side is calling on shoppers to boycott Whole Foods.

This response is telling.  Mackey is being demonized as an opponent of reform – a position they probably got from this line from his piece:

“Health-care reform is very important.”

Or possibly this one:

“[W]e clearly need health-care reform.”

You can see how that can be misconstrued.

The boycotters either don’t understand or don’t want to understand that Mackey’s individual health care concerns aren’t an issue – with a CEO’s salary, they are probably well-taken care of, with or without company-sponsored insurance.  He’s talking about how to build insurance that will help his employees – the same employees who are much more likely than Mackey to be hurt (through layoffs or schedule cutbacks) by a decline in company revenue brought on by, say, a boycott.

A blogger at OpenLeft doesn’t seem to mind:

I think [the boycott] is a great idea. A stupendous idea…. There are downsides. For example, the people who work at Whole Foods could be negatively affected.

Never let the “little people” get in the way of a big idea, right?