Voter Contact 101

The Key to Electing Progressive Candidates at Every Level

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From historic victories in Virginia to a shocking, come-from-behind win in Alabama last year, there's one thing we know for sure: when we fight we win. But election wins don’t just happen. They take lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of work. And the most important part is what’s called “voter contact," which is exactly what it sounds like: talking to voters, particularly face to face. It’s the single most important thing you can do to build the blue wave this year!

Indivisibles across the country have already started to contact voters by canvassing (going door to door to have in person conversations) and phonebanking (calling voters on the phone). Now, groups will be able to use the Voter Action Network (VAN) to make that work easier and more effective. In some elections, we’ll also use peer-to-peer texting tools like Hustle.

This explainer covers how to decide what election your group should work on and how voter contact works. Please note: this guide is intended for groups engaging by using Indivisible’s VAN--which means working on the independent expenditure (IE) side, and not coordinating directly with candidates or their campaigns. If your group is getting involved outside of our program, or if you’re spending money on electoral work, you may need to consider different strategic and legal factors that aren’t covered here.

Senate, or House, or Governor, or state legislature, or...

Just like our team of policy wonks demystified Congress, our team of campaign hacks and data gurus will offer expert analysis on elections to help your group focus your energy where you can have the biggest impact. It really depends on where you live— but in general, the most important elections are the ones that will be close.

We’re starting by setting up voter contact tools for some of the most important, impactful elections— so your group can begin talking to voters where it matters most. Your organizer will also help Indivisibles in your area decide together on a plan, with goals that make sense for you.

Primary election or general election?

Primaries are the elections to pick a political party’s nominee for a particular office. General elections are when party nominees go head to head in November. The first question to answer is: has the primary election in your state happened yet? Primary election dates for every state for 2018 are listed here.

If yours has already passed, this decision is easy: focus on the general election. If not, consider endorsing in the primary! We’ve said it before: primaries are healthy for our democracy. But we only recommend you engage in the primary election if your group can agree to endorse a specific candidate— and if you agree you will all support whoever wins in the general election.

The election “cycle”: three phases of any election

Phase 1: Identification & Capacity Building

Identification and capacity building. Start talking to voters as soon as you’ve decided to support a candidate. Early on, most Indivisibles’ conversations with voters will focus on identification--asking voters who they are supporting in the coming election. You’ll use this information to guide the rest of your campaign! It’s also a good time to do volunteer recruitment--asking voters you’ve “ID’d” as supporters to join you in talking to other voters, and to join your Indivisible group! Depending on where you live, this is also an important time to do voter registration. Simply grab a phone, go to indivisible.turbovote.org and start registering voters (check out our full guide here).  

Phase 2: the road to victory

Voter contact varies the most in the period between two months before an election day (or “E-day”) and two weeks before it. (Your “E-day” could be either the primary or general election.) Your Indivisible organizer will help you develop a strategy to win the election, based in part on the data you’ve already added to VAN from talking to voters. This period might include additional identification and volunteer recruitment conversations, or persuasion— conversations with undecided voters to try to win them over. It’s all about figuring out the path you need to take to win on election day.

Phase 3: GOTV

The last phase of voter contact starts either two weeks before E-day or on the first day of early voting, for states that have it, and is called GOTV— or Get Out The Vote. During GOTV, you’ll be talking to people who we think support our candidate, but who need an extra push to get out to the polls. You’ll remind them that voting is our civic duty and help them make a plan to vote. Luckily, progressives have done extensive research on what actually works for GOTV, so we’ll help you make a perfect GOTV plan.

Some ways of contacting voters are better than others

Since we put out the Indivisible Guide, we’ve always been upfront about what works and what doesn’t. (E.g. why you shouldn’t call Paul Ryan, unless you live in his district!) We’re doing the same thing for elections. Here are some forms of voter contact, from best to… not best.

  1. Canvassing. Talking to voters face to face is far and away the most effective form of voter contact. If you’re working on a race in your area (or can travel), canvassing should be your first choice.

  2. Phonebanking. Calling voters is the next best thing, and can be a great option for people from out of town or for folks who aren’t able to canvass.

  3. Texting. Peer-to-peer texting is also effective, particularly for recruiting people to come to events and for GOTV, although it shouldn’t replace canvassing or phone banking.

  4. Postcards and letters. Sorry. We know that everyone likes postcards. But it’s hard to reach a large number of voters this way, and it’s not clear from past research whether a postcard or letter impacts if someone votes--or who they vote for.

This is simpler than it sounds

Winning elections isn’t easy— it’s a lot of work. But it’s not complicated. The most impactful thing Indivisibles can do to build that blue wave is talk to voters. And that’s about showing up, like you’ve done since last January. So let’s start knocking on doors. We can do this. Together, we will win.

If you are an Indivisible group ready to get started using our (really awesome) tools or want to learn more, get in touch with your organizer today. If you're an individual who wants to get involved, connect with an Indivisible group near you today.