A Step-by-Step Approach to a Hard-Hittinq GOTV Plan
Carey Cramer Sr.
For a successful GOTV you must have the full financing available at the start, a well-developed implementation plan, a vender schedule, your supporters identified and the message created.
A Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) plan is the final and single most critical element of a successful political campaign.
Your supporters must vote on election day — or you will not win. As simple as this sounds, the GOTV plan is often overlooked until the last minute because other campaign issues are allowed to take precedence. A GOTV must be carefully laid-out long before you begin, and then followed closely all the way through to election day. In the heat of a campaign’s final weeks, the frenzied activity that invariably arises can cause a fatal breakdown in campaign GOTV strategy — unless you plan carefully and stay focused on the task.
Careful consideration should be given to the basic elements in the design of an effective GOTV plan. Of course the entire campaign is geared toward getting votes, but the GOTV deals directly with the last weeks before the election in identifying your supporters and getting them to the polls on election day. For the most part, the persuasion process should have already been completed before the GOTV is begun.
The basic components of a GOTV listed by effectiveness are telemarketing, direct mail, affiliated networks, and to a much lesser extent radio and television. There are other lesser components, but these are the GOTV options common to all campaigns. Success of the GOTV rests on balancing the implementation of these elements against campaign budget restraints.
There are several steps to go through before beginning the GOTV portion of a campaign. It is crucial to have the proper groundwork laid on which all of the GOTV will be built. For a successful GOTV effort you must have the full financing available at the start, a well-developed implementation plan, a vender schedule, your supporters identified and the message created. Each of these steps is very important to plan in advance.
Always budget from election day backward to ensure the GOTV is fully funded. It is critical that the money is available on schedule and in the fully budgeted amount. Set this money aside in a separate campaign account if necessary. This can help protect these funds from pilfering for other campaign expenses. The last few weeks of a campaign are the most frenzied and it is easy to start pulling funds from whatever source is available to fund “crisis” expenditures. Make these funds even more difficult to access by adding a required signature to the GOTV account. If your GOTV fails, your campaign will fail, so keep close track of the GOTV funds.
2. Implementation Plan
A good implementation plan rule of thumb is that a candidate should never make unilateral campaign decisions. A successful campaign requires a steady hand and nerves of steel. Inevitably the last-minute “brilliant” GOTV idea that comes to a candidate is from a combination of inadequate sleep and temporary insanity that many candidates face in the final hours of the campaign. Always get your consultant or at least two close trusted advisors to collaborate on last minute ideas. As an example, we will look at a mid-size campaign that was very close with the incumbent ahead by about 3 percentage points.
The contested district was a rough “figure eight” with the southern half being the smaller portion with about only 40 percent of the district, and where the incumbent resided. The northern portion of the district was where the challenger lived with 60 percent of the voters. The incumbent was very nervous about his narrow lead and the day before the election he unilaterally decided to have fliers printed saying “keep the representation in the south.” With his family he distributed these fliers to his entire southern home portion of the district. The opposition got hold of one of the fliers and simply copied the fliers and distributed them in the north at dawn on election day. They attached a small hand-written note that read “Isn’t it time we were represented in the north?” The incumbent lost by 7 percentage points.
It is imperative that an implementation plan is created far in advance before the crisis management mentality takes hold (usually about the time the GOTV begins). Use the master campaign calendar to schedule each component of the GOTV. Assign one trusted campaign personnel to manage the GOTV. In the weekly campaign meetings with key advisors, review the progress of the implementation plan. This should include timetables, vender contracts, financing, GOTV messages and ongoing voter ID progress. Databases should be maintained with the GOTV in mind. These databases will be merged with commercial broker lists to add and remove names from the final GOTV file.
Scheduling is critical to a GOTV plan. To implement the GOTV plan you must have a vender schedule in place far in advance of implementation. The telemarketing and direct mail companies need to be reserved. Often there are deposits required to reserve services from these venders. Many venders because of the very nature of politics require payment in full prior to beginning or even placing a client in their scheduling queue.
The capacity of these venders can be strained, especially in a presidential election year. Prices rise accordingly as the venders’ capacity is bought up. The longer you wait to schedule vendors, the more the laws of supply and demand will lessen the election day impact of your budget dollar.
4. Voter Identification
Voter identification (ID) is the process of categorizing voters as supporters (favorable), opposition supporters (unfavorable) or undecideds.
This ID is done primarily with telemarketing. Typically a qualified telemarketing firm can ID 72 percent to 76 percent of the voters. Potential voters are called and identified through a series of questions. Although sometimes just one question will suffice: “Who do you plan on voting for?” In some campaigns, it is important to know under what circumstances the electorate will vote for which candidate. This information is used to create a campaign message designed to affect a specific voting population. The more information collected, the more accurately the potential supporters can be targeted.
A solid voter ID effort costs a significant amount of money, but the success of GOTV depends on an accurately identified database. If you are operating on a severely limited budget, ID the voters by household rather than each individual voter.
Householding is not as accurate, but significantly better than no ID. Conducting a GOTV campaign without identifying your supporters also inevitably gets your opponents supporters to the polls to vote against you. A good telemarketing consulting firm can show you ways to target a smaller universe of voters and get a better response.
The voter ID must be done at least once just prior to beginning the GOTV. If the budget allows, the ID can be repeated as often as necessary through the process. This will facilitate the reidentification of the undecided voters and potentially increase the universe of supporters you will be able to get to the polls.
The GOTV message must be carefully crafted to motivate your supporters to go vote on election day. The information collected through the voter ID, opposition research and the candidate’s platform are used to create this message. Motivate is the key word here. Voters need a reason that motivates them to go vote. It is your responsibility to use this information and determine the driving reason (or reasons) that motivates your specific electorate to vote.
One of the best-kept secrets in the political world is when constructing a GOTV message, one must keep in mind a realistic sense of basic human nature. Machiavelli showed us that when it comes to politics people act with a certain unerring self-interest. It may not be “politically correct,” but in a true Machiavellian sense, this self-interest is determined from a combination of not only reasoned thought, but also illogical emotion.
Voters act out their self-interest by voting for or against, someone or something. That is, they may be voting for or against a candidate, or more deeply, a real or perceived motivational factor that is associated with either candidate.
Do not underestimate the impact of self-interest on the individual voters. Many politicians make the mistake of giving only “the facts” and miss the emotional element to motivate a sufficient number of voters. Today these emotional triggers are more commonly referred to as “hot buttons.” Use a balanced message of logic and emotion to motivate as many voters as it takes to get to 50 percent, plus one.
Take the example of Bill Clinton in 1992 during the presidential race. Clinton associated “the worst economy in 30 years” with then-President Bush. No one will forget the note over Stephanopoulos’ desk that read “It is The Economy Stupid!” People voted against Bush. As it turns out the economy was only in a minor turndown, but for several reasons Clinton was able to convince enough voters and used the “bad economy” self-interest to motivate those voters to the polls. The Clinton message combined the reasoned logic of “a bad economy will hurt my neighbors,” with the emotion of “I could lose my job.”
The Five GOTV Components
With the foundation laid for the GOTV, the basic elements of the GOTV will be discussed. Those elements again are telemarketing, direct mail, affiliated networks, and to a much lesser extent radio and television.
These are listed in order of importance to a winning campaign. The GOTV should last between three to six weeks depending on the size and budget of the campaign.
Telemarketing is the cornerstone of the GOTV effort. With today’s technology, it is virtually impossible to run a successful GOTV effort without a telemarketing component. Telemarketing is used to ID the voters, persuade them, defend your candidate, and deliver the final call to vote on election day.
The ID process has already been identified earlier as the process of categorizing voters. An ID should take place two to three days before you begin the actual GOTV This will determine which voters or households receive specific telemarketing calls and direct mail. The entire campaign from this point on will be determined by the tracking information provided in the ID, or IDs, where the budget allows. The ID can be expanded to become mini-ID tracking polls.
Optimally there should be three IDs over the last six weeks of the campaign. There is the initial ID which the data is used for a direct mail piece and a persuasion telemarketing call to the undecided voters. Three weeks out a second ID is done to re-identify voters for the impact of the mailer and telemarketing. A second round of mail and telemarketing is sent out from the new ID. Then a week before election day, a final ID is done. The cumulative favorable voters are called on election day with the motivational message designed to get them to the polls.
This is a somewhat complicated process with innumerable options. It is best to get a professional telemarketing firm to help develop a telemarketing campaign. A credible telemarketing firm can save much more money than they cost in consulting. They can qualify a smaller universe of voters by targeting only chronic voters. With a smaller universe to ID and contact you save money and work more efficiently.
Remember the telemarketing company represents your campaign directly to the voters. Find a telemarketing firm that specializes in political calls. As you can imagine, political calls are an entirely unique challenge in messaging, tracking and execution. Make sure the telemarketing company has national experience, is not home-based and has call-monitoring capabilities. Monitoring is important to insure proper pronunciation and professional delivery.
2. Direct Mail
Direct mail can be used effectively to increase voter turnout. There should be two to three direct mail GOTV pieces in the final six weeks of the campaign. The first two were described in the telemarketing section. The third piece should arrive within the last three days of the election. Be careful; if your timing is off the piece could arrive after the election. It is better to be a little early than late. Make this piece something that the voter will hold on to. Make it a “refrigerator reminder” that attaches to the refrigerator or a football schedule. Be creative. Creativity in direct mail is essential. Use the emotional appeal. Pictures are worth a thousand words; make sure they convey an emotional story that motivates. Hit the “hot buttons” hard.
Networks can be an important tool in a GOTV. Compile a list of affiliated networks that are supporters of the campaign. They can be neighborhood groups, church groups, civic organizations, business groups, and even friends and family. Particularly target groups that may have a vested interest in your success. Make sure these groups are properly motivated and activated on election day. They can do independent telephone calls, mailers, and neighborhood canvassing on election day. These networks can be the margin of victory in close, small, or under-funded campaigns.
Radio and television are not effective GOTV tools. They can reach a large amount of people at one time, but not all those reached are voters and certainly not all are your supporters. You simply cannot target the audience that needs to be reached. Some insist in using these mediums as a GOTV tool, but beware — it can do more harm than good in the last days of a campaign.
5. Other Considerations
Often overlooked GOTV components are offering rides to the polls, electronic voting and absentee voting. Each of these components represents only a minimal part of the overall electorate, but could play a significant role in a close race. Assign a campaign worker to manage each one individually when possible. Be creative on these especially if your opponent is ignoring them.
The GOTV effort is the final and single most critical element of a successful political campaign. A GOTV must be carefully laidout long before you begin, and then followed closely all the way through to election day Lay your foundation well with full and dedicated financing, a well-developed implementation plan, a vender schedule, identified supporters and a well-balanced message. Maximize all aspects of the GOTV including telemarketing, direct mail and affiliated networks. Getting out the vote is the key to a campaign victory, so plan well and stay on task.
Carey Cramer Sr. is president of The Meridian Group, a McAllen, Texas-based political telemarketing and direct mail firm
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