Campaign season for the fall election is starting right now. Very few people follow politics consistently. The six weeks prior to a general election is the exception. If you’ve been looking for a chance to do something that might change our future, this is your moment. Volunteer for at least one local campaign, and consider offering some time or money to a campaign elsewhere. Here’s how you can do it, and what you can expect to experience.
First, let’s make clear that this is something everyone can do. Starting tomorrow I’ll be volunteering with Sean Casten’s campaign for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District and I’m a cancer patient who can’t count on being able to leave the house from day to day. You can do this. Offering significant assistance to a campaign requires no political expertise and might not even require you to step outside your door.
What can I do to help a local campaign? Different campaigns emphasize different activities based on their needs, but you can count on opportunities to canvass neighborhoods, make phone calls, engage in text campaigns, deliver yard signs, and in a new twist, amplify a campaign’s social media presence. You might also have opportunities to drive voters to the polls or help with administrative tasks in a campaign office.
The most potent form of volunteer engagement is knocking on doors and encouraging support face to face. Obviously, this is also the most taxing investment of time and energy, but it can be fun. Campaigns often organize volunteers to canvass in groups, providing some social support and guidance. Saturdays are popular for this. This is your highest-impact potential investment in a campaign, potentially equal to a money donation deep in the thousands. It works.
Phone and text outreach is also helpful. New text platforms make it possible to reach hundreds of voters in a short time from a single phone. Campaigns often use web-based interfaces to make the process simple and repeatable.
The relative value of a single call or text is less than the power of a face-to-face conversation, but the potential scale makes this a useful augment to feet on the street. When you consider that the goal is to create information saturation as cheaply as possible, the critical role of calls/texts becomes clear. Compared to canvassing, this is extremely easy. And the advent of simple text campaign tools means you can reach lots of people even if you’re nervous about talking on the phone and unable to take time to walk the block.
Social media campaigns are earning a lot of attention. There’s still very little hard data available on their effectiveness, but based on what we’ve learned from earlier research, there are opportunities here to make a powerful impact with a tiny investment of energy.
You may get specific guidance from a local campaign, but in general here’s what probably works best. Focus on outreach to people you know, using the messaging delivered by the local campaign paired with your own explanations of support. Posts to your timeline on Facebook are more potent than Tweets. Messages directly to recipients are more effective than blanket posts. Try tagging key people in Facebook posts to your timeline. Make contact with the local campaign before launching a social media blitz. Use their templates or messaging, or repost their material rather than winging it.
Quick note. The comment thread of these posts in support of your candidate are a lousy place to get into a nasty back and forth on social media. At this point, a few weeks out from the campaign, the goal is not persuasion but mobilization. If someone starts pouring spam or inflammatory comments into post like this, just delete their comments and if necessary block them.
The relative impact of your support for less-known local candidates will be far greater than posts about national/Congressional candidates/issues. A congressional campaign in your district might have hundreds of volunteers while a winning state legislative candidate in the same area has a handful. Turning out support for candidates near the top of the ballot doesn’t consistently translate down to the state and local levels. However, when you mobilize support for state and local campaigns it tends to buoy the top of the ticket.
If you have the time and the ability to hit the streets for a candidate, but you’re reticent about direct interactions with strangers, don’t worry your introverted little head about it. First of all it isn’t as difficult as it seems, so don’t dismiss the idea of canvassing just because you’re nervous. Second, consider the possibility of helping with administrative tasks. Campaigns almost always need help delivering yard signs, driving people to the polls and doing back-office tasks. Having reliable volunteers to help with these little details frees up others for the most impactful work.
We have a fading opportunity to halt the bleeding from the Trump administration through peaceful means. If volunteering time for a campaign seems burdensome, compare it to what we’ll have to do to stop this regime after they’ve dismantled the Special Counsel’s investigation.
For the lapsed Republicans out there, take a deep breath and find a Democrat to support. Just over a decade ago as a Republican precinct committeeman in DuPage County, my small volunteer efforts helped put Peter Roskam in Congress. This year my support for his Democratic challenger Sean Casten will hopefully end Roskam’s career. Do what you gotta do for your country. In an emergency, necessity prevails.
If you spent some portion of Wednesday, November 9th 2016, in numb shock, wondering what to do about the disaster unfolding around us, now’s your chance. Channel that anger into action.