What Does Political Organizing Look Like from our 2021 Crystal Ball?
We’ve written a lot about political organizing and tactics like canvassing and phone banking in the past. But what does the future of political organizing hold in a post-pandemic world? Will digital be more important than in-person? How will grassroots and tech work together? What will the role of data be?
As a former grassroots political organizer who likes to stay up-to-date on all the latest trends, allow me to dust off our crystal ball once again and give you our take on the future of grassroots and political organizing.
Data Will Be More Important Than Ever Before
Collecting and understanding your own campaign data is both the present and the future. Data privacy continues to be on lawmakers’ minds as new laws and regulations roll out. As Google and other digital powerhouses move towards a cookie-less digital future, first-party campaign data will become even more important to collect and understand. The best way around any data concerns is to start building your own campaign data early and often. Custom data modeling for campaigns will become more available and common. This will allow organizers to have access to dozens of different models instead of just two or three.
Canvassing Will Come Roaring Back
Don’t call it a comeback because it’s been here for years. It’s our view that canvassing will be making its return in the ever evolving, not yet "post-pandemic" world of organizing. In the heat of the pandemic, many campaigns and organizations shut down their canvass operations and, as a result, started to realize just how much they leaned on canvassing. While other tactics like phones, SMS, and social tried to fill the void, nothing has quite the same level of effectiveness. Why? Because meeting with people face-to-face and telling them why you are supporting an issue or candidate is tried and true. While people can easily ignore a phone call or be rude on the Internet, most people have a real problem being mean to someone who is directly in front of them. Though it may seem like one of the least high-tech organizing tactics, canvassing remains crucial. Having real conversations with people about the issues that matter to them carries a lot of weight and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future once we reach a point where canvassers and voters are all comfortable with its full-fledged return. In recent years, tech has supported the world of canvasing through high tech canvassing apps that track canvassers, allow for testimonials, sign-ups, and donations all at the door. Look for even more high-tech innovations in the world of canvasing campaign tools in the future.
Phones Will Have a Role, But It Will Change
Before the pandemic, traditional phone banking was on the decline. So many people now have cell phones and federal law prohibits using any predictive dialer technology to call cell phones. To make matters worse, most people don’t answer calls from numbers they don’t already have in their phones. While phone banking was still used as a volunteer recruitment tool, many campaigns chose to invest in canvassing or SMS over traditional phone banks. But as pollsters will tell you, the pandemic saw a rise in folks answering their phones since so many people were at home, but this trend will not hold. Landlines are being phased out fast as people have ditched their landlines for cell phones in large numbers. Though there are still a number of older voters out there that do have landlines, calling landlines is just not as effective as it used to be, and that trend will continue. However, other phone technologies like telephone town halls have made a strong comeback in popularity due to the pandemic and we predict that they will continue to have a place even post-pandemic.
Virtual Coffees & Town Halls Aren’t Going Away
We all know that Zoom calls and virtual organizing vastly increased during the pandemic and by our estimation, this trend will only continue to grow as voter contact and grassroots organizing method. Virtual meetings are not going away anytime soon and the ability for campaigns to organize voters and volunteers virtually will continue to be important moving forward. Will traditional, in-person campaign events eventually return? Sure, but look for the continued integration for events and fundraising apps with CRMs and other campaign tools to make virtual engagements seamless and easy.
SMS Matters – But Be Strategic
The growth of SMS shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most people have cell phones. In most cases, people would have to go out of their way to shut off the text-messaging feature. This means there’s an enormous pool of people out there that an organizer can reach via text messaging. Further, texts are generally viewed as a highly personal form of communication. We saw the rise of SMS and text organizers during the heat of the pandemic, and for good reason. If you begin early enough in the campaign, collecting SMS sign-ups will pay off as you get closer to Election Day. For many campaigns, SMS is a smart alternative to traditional phone banking with its continued rate of diminishing returns. But while SMS is increasingly being used as an organizing tool it can easily become the new spam/robocalls if we all aren’t careful with how we use them.
Email Is Great But Keep It Out of the Promotions Tab
Email continues to be an effective organizing tactic as more of us have access to our email on our phones and tablets. In the modern era of organizing, email is more important than ever and this tactic carried a lot of water for campaigns during the pandemic. New techniques for increasing open rates, deliverability, and customization of email forms will be the future of this important organizing tactic. Campaigns will continue to spin their wheels and spend a lot of time trying to keep their email out of Google’s dreaded promotion tab. Sadly, there isn’t a great one-size-fits-all solution to this, but generally, the more engaging and interactive your email is, the easier it will be to keep it out of the promotions tab. Best practices do tend to stay the same for email. You shouldn’t buy a list or send out spam to people who haven’t opted into receiving an email. We expect that many silver bullets for building and growing a campaign’s organic email list will be explored in the future, but we predict that most of these will come with mixed results.
Social Media will Continue to Grow and Grow
Social media has changed the game in terms of political organizing and it will continue to do so in the future. Taping into the fact that someone’s entire network now lives online, organizers use social media to have volunteers reach out to their friends or have friends of friends make warm introductions to make their asks more effective. Back in the good old days of organizing, you had to ask someone who else they knew who may want to help. Not anymore. Organizers today have their volunteers reach out to their friends and talk about the issues that matter to them. In the future, social media will only continue to help organizers refine asks and use positive social pressure to produce change. But organizers can’t overestimate the power of social media – you still have to connect and engage in a focused way to get folks truly involved in your issue or cause.
Custom Content will Become an Organizing Tool
Custom content became an important part of the virtual organizer’s toolbox in 2020 and our guess is that it will remain an important tool in the future. Many campaigns leveraged tools like Boast.IO and others to allow their volunteers to produce custom content that they’d promote across social media and other channels – often with great success. Even as the pandemic (hopefully) starts to wane, we predict user-generated content will be an important part of the organizing future, allowing voters to be the faces of their campaigns from the comfort of their homes.
Relational Organizing and App Integration
When relational organizing came back in vogue in 2018, there was a view that it would dominate the future. Instead, what we found is more of a focus on tools and data integration than a plethora of good relational tools. Big tech companies continue to purchase successful smaller tools and then fully integrate them within their suite of products so the data you input into one app goes seamlessly into another tool. There’s also a variety of integration tools that exist just to be able to link two different products or tools together. Tool integration will continue to be the future for many organizations as platforms consolidate and buy smaller apps.
Fewer Silos Between Fundraising and Organizing
This is a trend that started long before the pandemic and one we expect to continue to grow post-pandemic. Many campaigns have seen a continued merger between low-dollar fundraising and grassroots organizing through digital engagement. The theory here is that if someone gives even a very small amount, they’re fully invested in the campaign. Not only do you get the monetary value of that donation (and someone you can keep going back to for subsequent donations) you also get a new, fully bought-in supporter. We’ve seen organizers that have started incorporating fundraising asks into their persuasion and GOTV pitches. This trend has also seen advocacy and politics merge closer together as issue and political campaigns become a year-round discussion instead of something you just do a few weeks out from Election Day.
Relationships Matter, Now More than Ever
With all the new tools available to political organizers today, one thing is clear: relationships still matter a lot. All the tools that we’ve mentioned above are only really effective when they are backed up by a strong personal connection. For instance, having a canvasser be vulnerable and tell their real story at the door is the key to real persuasion. And while social media has changed the game in terms of advocacy and political organizing, its strength lies in the fact that it is essentially tapping into the personal relationships between users. It's clear political organizing is still very much based on personal relationships and that will continue in the future.
Have questions or observations about the future of political organizing? Drop us a note today!