From the Trenches

Another report from the GOTV trenches, from an anonymous TPM Reader …

I read with interest the letter from the Idaho man who was a volunteer in the Obama campaign in Ohio. Here is the perspective of a volunteer in a heavily Democratic state which is close geographically to a “swing” state and participated in the Obama campaign.

People who are not informed about how the campaign came together do not understand the outsized importance of the out of state efforts by Obama volunteers into swing states. When I tell non-political friends that one of my major activities in the last few months was the Obama campaign, they don’t know what to think, since, as election day neared, all the media talk was about Ohio, Florida and Virginia. They don’t get it.

I live in New York State. Probably a year before the election, I got a phone call to ask if I wanted to make phone calls to people in the area to recruit as volunteers for 2012. I had been a volunteer in 2008 and saw many of the same people from 2008 at this phone bank. Later, in early 2012, I was identified as a core volunteer and was asked to go to a meeting in PA; the purpose of the meeting was to explain the themes of the campaign and the respective roles that PA and NY would play in the election. PA was in the critical path that Obama had to win to get to 270 and NY was to be its primary helpmate. Areas within PA were paired with areas in NY.

After that weekend, we continued ties with our ‘sister area’. New Yorkers went to PA on weekends to register voters. As the April primary neared, we started canvassing to get out the vote for the primary, even though Obama did not have any opposition on the primary ballot. (I suspect that one aspect of the work done for the primary was to get people who usually don’t vote into the habit of voting.) During the summer, we continued to canvass on the weekends. As the car trips continued, phone banks also continued. Now we were not only building a local base of volunteers, but also calling into our sister area of PA. The lists for both the canvassing trips and phone banks were not random. In fact the phone banks were labelled as ‘persuasion’ calls, since we weren’t necessarily talking to supporters.

As Labor Day approached, we continued to travel to PA and phone bank into PA. By this time, neighborhood teams had raised enough money (no campaign money was used) to open a local, official Obama office, which became a focal point of the volunteer effort. So while local groups continued to have their phone banks at night, many in private homes, other volunteers who didn’t want to drive at night, especially older women, could drop into the office during the day to volunteer.

After Labor Day, we went into high gear. Phone banks were expanded–perhaps a dozen during the week. There were buses paid for by the campaign to PA practically each weekend to canvass. We were also branching out from our sister area into other areas of PA. The lists became more and more pointed. It was clear that the list wasn’t reaching out to the committed Democratic voter. On canvassing trips we weren’t going to the house with the Obama yard sign. Instead, we were combing what I call the “bottom” of the list–young people who couldn’t be contacted by phone (many of whom had moved or were students) or other hard to reach voters. We collected “commit” cards from those who said that they would vote for Obama; these cards were to be sent to the committed voter right before election day. At some phone banks, we were calling Republican areas to try to tease out the occasional Democrat.

The phone banks in NY started to change as October neared. Now we were calling into Ohio and encouraging those who identified as our supporters to vote early. Naturally, we had all the information at our fingertips–the addresses of the local voting place, the hours, what voter ID was required. In any case, we asked when did the supporter “plan” on voting–before work, after work and so on. These voters would be called through election day to make sure that they followed through on their “plan”.

Then came the ultimate phone bank tool–the predictive dialer. One of the hazards of a phone bank is the “NHs”–not at home. The predictive dialer is a marketing tool that makes it possible for one to locate someone who is willing to answer the phone. Once we started using predictive dialers from our office, each attempted call reached a person on the list and productivity skyrocketed.

During GOTV, buses went daily to PA and our area had several staging areas staffed with our local, neighborhood volunteers. Phone banks ran from mid-morning until 9/10pm. On election day, the phone banks followed the time zones. First calling into PA/Ohio, Wisconsin and finally Nevada–making sure that those on the list had or were going to vote.

I went to another swing state to canvass for GOTV. Again, there was a logic to the knocks. We bypassed houses with Obama signs and called upon what I can only assume were more tentative Democratic voters. Interestingly, some on the list looked like persuadable men who had wives who were voting for Obama. For example, after we identified ourselves, one woman in an upper middle class area answered the door in a rush, “I can’t talk to you now. I’m on the phone with work. I’m voting for Obama.” “How about your husband?” (Who was on the list, not her.) “We’ll see.”

The results speak for themselves. Last week, I heard that NY made at least 2.5 million phone calls into swing states during the campaign. Six buses went to Ohio from NY for GOTV and at least one to VA. These numbers don’t include freelancers, such as myself and others.