The Science And Strategy Of Getting Out The Vote
On Tuesday, the polls will open, ballots will be cast and the victors of the 2014 midterm elections will be known...we hope.
Historically, the turnout in midterm elections is low. Whichever candidate or party can best mobilize their base is the victor. It’s what’s known as the ground game. And there is a science behind the strategy.
Don’t let the calm nature of Bruce Epperson fool you. The 42-year-old is on a hunt. "I’m on Danview Avenue, 2800 block."
Carrying an impressive stack of door hangers, postcards and a well worn clipboard, Epperson is hunting for what may be the biggest prize this election, the drop-off voter. And he's found one. "Hello, how are you doing today?"
Drop-off voters are those who cast ballots in presidential election years but who take a hiatus during the midterms. "Our official records show that Frank voted in 2002, and since he’s a voter I wanted to remind him of the upcoming election."
Those records are publicly available. Epperson is a canvasser. Clad in a green Kay Hagan T-shirt it's clear which candidate he supports. But he doesn’t work for her campaign. Epperson is trying to get out the vote on behalf of a liberal outside group. "Our goal this election season is to communicate with 2 million drop off voters in key senate states," says Daniel Weiss is the Senior Vice President for Campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters. His group will spend about $5 million in North Carolina, "which is a major portion of our overall $25 million investment this election cycle."
Some of that money will go to airing television ads contrasting the views of Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis on issues like climate change and coal ash. The rest is spent putting boots on the ground.
Nick Rivers is standing in an old upholstery factory on south Tryon. As the state canvas director for the League of Conservation voters, it’s his job to make sure their canvassers are effective and efficient. "Throughout the state we have 700-plus on staff."
It all starts each morning when the teams arrive at their local offices. Rivers calls it “the launch.” "Launch is when we get the canvassers inside the door. And then between the times of 11 and 11:25 we do roll play." They practice talking with would be voters. Each interaction is guided by a script that has been tailored to North Carolina. It’s surprisingly non-political. Designed to be conversational. And there’s a science behind that design. "We try to make a plan in the voter’s mind of when they’re going to vote," explains Rivers, "So the script that we give them details, kind of pries into how they’re actually going to execute their vote. Are they going to go early? Are they going to go late? Are they going to drive? Are they going to take the bus?"
Whenever possible, they try to cement that plan with a follow-up e-mail. Or by leaving a postcard reminder.
No detail is too small when it comes to getting out the vote campaigns. Take the appearance of the canvassers. There’s a dress code posted on the wall. It includes banning hats and sunglasses. "A voter doesn’t want to see a canvasser with a pair of sunglasses on," says Rivers, "because there isn’t as much of a connection there." And any connection and all the details and data the canvassers collect are punched into an app on an IPod Touch which is synced at the end of every shift. That constant flow of data allows the group to constantly change where and when the 90 plus paid door knockers working out of this office go.
The League of Conservation Voters is by no means the only group using these kinds of techniques and technology to get out the vote. Candidates, parties and groups from every political flavor have been using them for years. And occasionally they cross paths, says canvasser Bruce Epperson. "I ran into one other canvassing team out in Concord for Thom Tillis."
"And she had to realize doors that weren’t welcoming her were welcoming me."
But with a goal of knocking on nearly 650,000 doors throughout the state, canvassers from the League of Conservation Votes are bound to find times when they’re on the other end of that equation.