Political Campaigns and Coronavirus

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Political Campaigns and Coronavirus

Political Campaign and Coronavirus: How To Manage Both.

Political Campaign and Coronavirus - It's a tough time for the world and political campaigns, Covid-19 is changing political campaigns. From field tactics, to fundraising to how campaigns buy media this crisis will have a long term impact on electoral politics.  We've written this guide to help you manage your political campaigns response to Covid-19. Coronavirus is impacting large and small political campaigns. Political campaigns and groups have stopped door-to-door canvassing, in-person fundraisers and events. With political campaigns and Coronavirus, there are constantly changing elements. Campaigns are reacting and planning ways to protect constituents, volunteers, staff, and candidates.

While the usual tips and tricks for political campaigns can help guide you through the unfamiliar territory of Covid19, many of the traditional tactics for campaigning are not advisable.  We’ve put together a list of tips for political campaigns to use during this difficult time. This is a post we are updating as more information becomes available. Please check back regularly.  Feel free to drop us a note on what your campaign is doing and how we can be helpful.

Communication is Key
Create a plan and let folks know what you are doing as a campaign. Be decisive; it is better to make quick decisions on the basis of safety than to make no decision at all. Unsure on what to communicate regarding political campaigns and Coronavirus? Here are the basics: 

  • Up-to-date and factual information about Covid-19 
  • Information on how to help your community
  • Information on where to get help (medical Care, groceries/essential purchases, etc.)
  • Steps you and your campaign team are taking to address the political campaign and Coronavirus

Canceling Rallies and Fundraisers
Campaigns have canceled/postponed rallies and in-person fundraisers and you will see this continue to happen. We recommend that you:

  • Reach out to donors and check in virtually or by phone
  • Have virtual meetings around your political campaign and Coronavirus
  • Use email and other channels to share helpful information

Impacts on Campaign Fundraising 
Coronavirus will impact fundraising. With a projected 20% unemployment rate, donation rates will drop. In 2008 during the economic downturn, we saw a 6% drop in charitable donations. It’s hard to estimate the exact impact at this time, but it will be significant. It is important to have a continued outreach plan to donors even if it means just providing information. 

Direct Mail and Mail Delivery 

Impact on Mail Delivery
The postal service has not changed domestic mail delivery even in the hardest hit areas. There have delays in mail delivery.  You should monitor information from The United States Postal Service. You can find more information at the USPS website

  • How is USPS delivering mail under shelter in place declarations? The Postal Service is classified as an essential government service operation, which allows them to continue operations. 
  • How safe is the mail and mail transport equipment? Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance indicates no evidence the virus is spreading through mail. According to WHO, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating mail is low, and the risk of catching the virus from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low. 
  • Is the USPS experiencing capacity issues due to reduced airline routes? There are no domestic air capacity issues at this time. The Postal Service continues to work with contract air carriers to keep mail moving.
  • What about secondary shippers? Secondary shippers move a lot of mail. FedEx freight may reduce delivery in specific states and other secondary shippers could follow suit. We will continue to track this but delivery will vary by state and area. 

Impact on Printers and Mail-houses 
Most printers and mail-houses,  are currently defined as essential services.  They have not changed delivery schedules and are continuing to hit drop dates, but that could change. Make sure your mail consultant is working with you to provide up-to-date information. It may also be worth reducing the complexity of programs to make them easier to execute.  

Impact on Paper Supply
Paper has increased in cost over the last few years and this will likely increase the cost of mail. 

Primary Election Dates 
Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania have postponed their primaries.  More states are likely to do the same. Some statutes make it extremely difficult for states to postpone elections. Other states will be increasing vote-by-mail, moving early voting sites, and finding more folks to staff voting locations. 

Absentee Voting  
Vote-by-mail and no-excuse absentee voting will increase exponentially in 2020. Planning for Vote by mail, for political campaigns and coronavirus will continue to evolve. More states will allow voting on days other than Election Day and people’s behavior will change to avoid crowds and human contact. Campaigns and organizations should change plans to focus on absentee voting and early voting as a resource to voters. Consider adding a proactive absentee ballot chase direct mail program (i.e. mailing likely absentee voters so a piece lands in their mailbox around the same time a ballot lands). Since the universe of absentee ballot voters will expand greatly, you will need to be proactive and do more than chase applications.  You also should include up to date vote by mail information on your website, mail and social media platforms. 

Secretary of States will be sending out vote by mail applications to more voters, but localities may not be staffed to handle the volume of vote by mail requests.  Check with your local state party or Board of Elections to ensure you can provide your voters with the correct information. 

What Precautions Can Campaigns Take? 
You should not be doing grip and grins. Meet voters where they are, which means not meeting with them at in person. Keeping voters and your team safe is your primary concern.  Strategize how to communicate to vulnerable communities to reach your campaign goals. This may mean calling, telephoning town halls, and texting. 

Should  You Campaign Door to Door? 
For the time being, no.  Deploy tactics  to keep engagement going without in-person voter contact.  It is not worth the risk to you, staff, volunteers, and constituents to canvas. 

What Can Campaigns Do Instead of Canvass?  There are other ways to engage voters here are some of our favorites-

Live phone calls are still be a good tool for organizing.  Landlines can reach older voters and using this as a time to be helpful and give information about vote-by-mail and primary date changes. Many platforms (NGP VAN, etc.) have built in calling that can be used by volunteers and staff, but be sure you are providing real value when you call. 

Telephone Town Halls  
Tele-town halls are being used as a way to talk about issues during this time. A telephone town hall is a good, old-school way to reach out to your constituents and engage with them on important issues.you can integrate your teletown halls with other platforms (zoom, facebook live). Have a plan to push out you telephone town hall with robocalls digital ads, organic content and even mail. 

Facebook Groups  
Creating supporter groups and virtual fundraisers allows campaigns and organizations  to stay in touch with supporters and connect with each other around a common goal. It  is important to get your message across about both your political campaign and Coronavirus groups are a good way to do this with your best supporters. 

Facebook Live 
I am surprised at how few candidates take advantage of Facebook Live. It is a good tool to interact with constituents. Promoting Facebook Live content, after your initial conversation will extend  the life of the content for a couple weeks.  More tips on Facebook Live for campaigns are available here.

Getting supporters to opt-in to text alerts is a long-term goal for most organizations and campaigns. With Coronavirus, it is a necessity to find ways to communicate quickly without the option of meeting in person. 

Relational Organizing
This is an old-school trend. Using your volunteers and organizers to leverage their personal or professional relationships, you can expand the campaign’s connections. 

Virtual Meetings
Zoom is a great way to meet with teams virtually. The webinar function works well for large groups and trainings. There are a lot of tools other than Zoom: GoToMeeting (which currently has a free 90-day subscription), Google Hangouts, etc.

WhatsApp Groups
This is another way to communicate with large groups through both text and calls, it has push notifications, tagging and is easy to use.

Slack is a good way campaigns to stay in touch with teams, do group calls, and track assignments. You can also use it to call staff and volunteers, it has a nice integration with zoom and push notifications so you don't need to be in  the app all the time. Slack can help you get the word out to your team about your political campaign and Coronavirus updates.

Organic Digital  
Add relevant content to websites and make sure you are optimizing content for search. Social media is important, but make sure you are putting relevant info on your website as well. Post video messages on your site as well as on social. 

Digital Advertising
You will need to communicate for a longer time period digitally than before. Work with your digital team. Plan to use a combination of paid and organic digital. Digital ad inventory will be impacted this fall with some social platforms already out of the picture for political advertising. Campaigns should budget for and expect to see higher CPMs for digital. Approval time on ads (specifically Facebook) will take longer, so plan accordingly. 

Television Rates 
Campaigns and independent expenditures should expect high cost per points (CPP) for TV this fall. And, since the Coronavirus, TV ad buying has gone up. Now is a pretty good time to be buying cable and broadcast TV. Voters are spending more time at home watching tv and staying inside, which gives you more time to spread your message to your audiences. 

Budgeting and Planning
Be intentional about budgeting and planning for political campaigns and Coronavirus. Make sure you cut non-essential campaign expenses and delay programs that you can afford to start later. Make sure you create budgets at different levels in case your fundraising is slower than expected.

Polling and Online Panels -  Having real information about peoples attitudes is helpful for political campaigns and Coronavirus messaging. Most phone banks have moved to remote work flows making them still possible.  Online panels allow campaigns and organization to hold virtual focus groups. You now can test creative and messaging without having to be in person. Live call polling response rates as well as online response rate have increase during  this time and historically have during times of crisis - so this may be a time to get information from your members and voters while they are at home. 

Be helpful. Talk about health care and provide useful information. Remember campaigns are about the voter not the candidate. Make sure you focus on their needs and how the office you are running for is relevant to them. Be careful with tone and be sure to test messages on multiple platforms to see what is working and what is not. 

Political Campaign and Coronavirus: Have Questions?

Drop us a note about what you are doing for planning around your political campaign and Coronavirus. Let us know if we can give you more information for your campaign or organization.