5 Takeaways from the Alabama Senate Election

In Uncategorized by Bryan Eastman

5 Takeaways from the Alabama Senate Election

Wow, just wow. I’m writing this minutes after seeing Doug Jones win statewide in Alabama and in utter disbelief. The number of things that had to go right for Doug Jones to win was astronomical. He needed heavily increased black vote despite being a white politician, a suppression of Republican votes in a deeply partisan time, and white conservatives to actually vote for a Democrat. The polls were all over the place, showing wild swings, but as a whole started converging the way you’d think: toward the Republican at the end as voters came back home. In fact, they did, exit polling showed late breaking voters voted Republican. There were a million ways Roy Moore could have won this, and only one narrow way Doug Jones could have. Honestly, I didn’t think he’d be able to pull it off.

And yet, against all the odds, he did. Here are some takeaways from the Senate race:

Money Won This Election

Doug Jones raised roughly 10 times more than Roy Moore. As a Democrat I’m used to being outspent on campaigns (it’s hard working for the party of the people), but I’ve never been outspent by numbers like that. Being outspent by anything above 3–1 can feel unrelenting, where you’re constantly running your campaign in response to what your opponent is doing and saying about you and themselves. It kills morale, donations, support, and votes by the end of it. The fact that Doug Jones was able to raise and spend that amount of money is what put him over the edge.

This money was largely spent on T.V. which allowed Doug Jones to blanket the airwaves with great spots that reminded voters about Roy Moore’s predatory behavior. If Roy Moore had even half that he could have reminded conservative voters about Doug Jones’ more liberal positions, tied him to national liberal figures, and gotten Republicans back in their partisan corners. I call that the “partisan pressure release valve” and when you’re running in an area with your party at your helm it’s an easy and extremely effective tactic to pull. That is, unless you don’t have the money to get out from under and unrelenting chorus of sexual assault accusations. It’s not fun or sexy to mention money in something like this, but in this case it was absolutely what put Jones over the top.

Turnout (Also) Won This Election

There will be more data to dig through tomorrow, but for today it looks like the elusive swing voter did not peak their head from the foggy lake they are rumored to exist in and make themselves known, it was once again all about turnout. While turnout across the board was down from presidential years it was higher in African American Democratic areas and HEAVILY depressed in Republican areas.

In that way this election result shouldn’t be all that surprising. It’s been the holy grail for campaigners that if we could just pull out a fraction of our party’s voters from a presidential year to the midterms we would sweep the elections. By all accounts Doug Jones had a great field game, and people were excited to go vote for him. Getting those people out to vote without the excitement of a president at the top of the ticket is hard, but Democrats seem to be there right now, and Republicans aren’t.

Old School Polling Worked

Live phone call polling was far more accurate in this race than either online or robocall polling. Live calls showed Jones up by 2–3 points, compared to online and robocall polling which tended to show Moore up 6–10 points. This is for a number of reasons that Nate Silver reviewed in great detail if you’re interested. As a born and bred cheapskate I’m praying for the day we can tweak polling through automated processes that can rival the accuracy of in person calls. One day we will, but this Alabama race shows that in volatile situations like we had here nothing beats in person calls. In the meantime the days of $15,000 polls continues :-(.

Ideology Didn’t Factor

There’s been a lot of interesting research on how voters interact with ideology, and this election shows how it plays out in the real world. Voters don’t understand, much less vote, on the political ideology of the candidates. When you ask voters about where specific issues stand on a conservative and liberal spectrum, only a small fraction can actually tell you. An old school campaigner would tell you only the most conservative Democrat could win in Alabama. But Doug Jones was not a conservative Democrat, he’s a civil rights lawyer, pro-choice, and pro gay marriage. What he did is focus on what he had in common with Alabamians, and most importantly made the race about Roy Moore and not himself.

Trump Isn’t Helping

Exit polling across the board had Trump almost dead even for approval, 48%-48%. This is in a state he won by 28 points last year. Roy Moore had an easy way to win this election, he needed to nationalize the election and remind voters that they share an important identity together: Republicanism. That’s that pressure valve I was talking about earlier, and it works. The problem was Republicans nationally wanted no part in sharing an identity with a likely sexual predator (for the 2nd time), and kept arms length. Trump (that other sexual predator I alluded to earlier) was happy to come in and support though. This would be a powerful ally, except even in deep red Alabama his approval is sinking, and doesn’t seem to be the draw he once was.

This election is going to be really important. It’s going to fire up donors, potential candidates, and campaign workers, and make incumbent Republicans think long and hard about whether early retirement looks good for them right now. Not to mention it gives Democrats a great shot at winning back the Senate, an important step in blocking any extreme Trump Supreme Court picks.

Okay, it’s 1 am here in Florida and I have meetings across Orlando all day tomorrow, so I’m going to bed. This was a great night, not just for Democrats but for basic moral decency. We should all give ourselves a pat on the back, am I right?

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6 Takeaways From the 2017 Elections

In Opinion by Bryan Eastman

It’s been a hard fought few months, with friends I know working on many campaigns across this country. Some were successful, some weren’t As a whole it was a phenomenal night for Dems, with some interesting takeaways for the 2018 election. I can’t possibly go into all of them late at night on a Tuesday night, but here are some of the things that really stuck out to me:

The Educated Voters Are Holding
One of the biggest questions of 2018 is whether educated voters are going to hold against Trump. We know that working class voters are less likely to show during a midterm, which is usually offset by educated suburban conservative voters. They broke more heavily for Hillary in 2016, and if that holds it would spell trouble for Republicans going into the midterms.

That seems to have held in Virginia. Northam outperformed Clintons numbers among educated voters by 5% in exit polls, showing that not only can these numbers hold but they can even improve from 2016.

All Politics Is National
Despite hand wringing from Rick Baker, Rick Kriseman’s campaign strategy of nationalizing the race was a good one, and is truly the future of politics. While there was a time when “all politics is local” this isnt the case anymore. Trump casts such an enormous shadow over everything that any discussion of politics includes him, whether his name is in the conversation or not. As a candidate not mentioning the elephant in the room seems almost silly.

And the exit polls bare this out. 53% of voters came out expressly to vote for or against Trump. The actual numbers are probably much higher than that, as only 11.45% of Trump supporters or opposers switched sides and voted for the other party. Like it or not what happens nationally is whats determining everything from governor to dog catcher.

Guns Control Supporters Are Flexing
Standard view of the gun issue is that second amendment zealots care deeply about guns and gun control supporters have other issues they care about more. So even though the polling bares out gun control is popular it doesnt matter because the only thing you stand to get from gun control is to lose votes. However, exit polling is showing 17% of voters in Virginia considered gun policy their #1 issue, and that opposition or support split right down the middle. It appears that gun control supporters are becoming as fervent about gun issues as the 2nd amendment folks are, which changes the political calculus a lot for political campaigns going forward.

Demographics are Widening
Education, gender, and age are increasingly becoming sure fire determinants for your vote. Interestingly, income is going down as a determinant. This is going to be important in your scoring on VAN.

Confederate Statues Split the Democratic Coalition
Exit polls show a majority of Virginians think that Confederate statues should remain where they are (57%) and nearly ⅓ of those voters voted for Northam. This could explain why Gillespie went after this issue as hard as he did. However, it does not appear to be the top issue for most of them cause it didn’t seem to help him much at the ballot box.

The New Activists Can Finally Get a Taste of Victory
It’s hard to overstate the level of grassroots support that has come out since the 2016 election. DEC halls are bursting at the seams with new members, people are streaming into elections and volunteer positions to resist the Trump agenda. 2016 was a hard year on everyone, but especially for people at the periphery of politics who were jolted into action. Now they can finally get a taste of what victory feels like as they go into 2018. That’s gonna be important for their morale and spirit, cause this next year is gonna be long and hard. So enjoy it while you can activists that keep the wheels of train going, cause the real fight is a year away….

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The Impact of Facebook’s New Ad Requirements on Political Campaigns

In Digital Marketing by Bryan Eastman

Last Saturday Facebook announced a sweeping change to their requirements for advertisers in response to increased criticism over their handling of Russian Social Media ads. While the changes have been dreadfully under reported by the media, their result is gonna be a huge change to how Facebook advertisers, especially political ones, operate.

Increased Transparency
The most critical of these changes is the increased transparency for digital ads. Facebook announced that all ads being run by any page can now be seen by anyone visiting the page. They can only see the ads currently running, but for those ads they can see the creative, amount spent, and demographics of who they’re reaching. Previously, these ads weren’t findable unless you were targeted by them, or if you paid for specialized digital spy services like BigBigAds.com or AdsFox.com.

The impact on ALL advertisers is going to be huge for this. Political campaigns are an adversarial business, deciding what our opponents see and what they don’t is a critical part of the strategy of a campaign. But it’s also a critical part of the strategy of most businesses that have some form of competition. Now your competitors can see what deals you’re doing, how much you’re spending on digital advertising, and what you’re emphasizing to certain customers. The biggest issue I see coming up are going to be from advertisers who A/B test deals with different pricing for the same product to find what works the best. Now anyone can go to a page, view the current ads, and click through to get the best deal of the bunch, eliminating this powerful statistical analysis of your target customer.

Video from Facebook showing how the new disclosure will work:

Of course, that scenario matters much less for political campaigns. For campaigns the biggest change will be for marketers that micro target certain demographics with messaging you wouldn’t want to have others see. No longer can you get away with targeting Republicans with how you’ll “defend the second amendment” while hoping your Democratic base won’t see it. Now anyone can view any of these ads, and you can believe that your most engaged supporters and your competitors will be watching, and will give you headaches for anything that could alienate voters. It’s also an easy story for the news, who can now on any slow news day flip through Facebook ads for people running and see if there’s anything that might sound good on the 6:00 news.

Full Disclosure

By law campaigns need to disclose their digital ads somewhere people can click through to. This is generally done in the “About” section of each page.

Political campaigns must now verify their identity with Facebook, which you can now find from the ad itself. For most above the board political campaigns this isn’t a problem, the goal of your advertising is to get your candidates name out there, so hiding that information would be counter intuitive. You are also required by law to put that information on the Facebook page with disclosure language, so firms following the law are already disclosing this information.

But this will help shine light on dark money political digital campaigns, such as Russia in the 2016 election. The question will be how well can Facebook identify these types of campaigns? Anyone who follows the shifting waters of campaign finance knows this can be trickier than it appears at face value. I’ll go into that in a later post, but for now this is a good step in the direction of getting some much needed sunshine on these ads.

These changes will be rolled out in the United States the summer of 2018. There’s still a lot of details of their announcement not fully flushed out which will make a BIG difference to the end result, but for now this is a good step in the right direction for a company that should have been more on top of this earlier.

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Trump On Track to Win Re-Election? Not So Fast….

In Opinion by Bryan Eastman

On Saturday the Washington Post released an eye raising article from a Democratic political strategist named Doug Sosnik, forcefully titled “Trump Is On Track To Win Re-Election” Sosnik, a lead strategist for Bill Clinton, lays out a much less forceful argument than the title suggests, that Donald Trump has a better chance of reelection than any of us give him credit for. This is almost certainly true, Democrats need to not be lulled into a false sense of complacency, but I would be willing to bet most of my life savings on Trump coming out on the wrong end of this upcoming election. Here’s where Sosnik gets it wrong:

“We have entered a new era of politics…”

There’s a saying in the military, “Generals are always fighting the last war”. This couldn’t be more true than in political campaigns. The political class has a tendency to compare everything to the previous presidential election, whether it’s Obama’s hope in 2008, Romney’s moderateness in 2012, or Trump’s populism in 2016. A smart campaign will learn the landscape of their election, a dumb campaign will keep fighting the battles of yore.

In 2020 we are probably not looking at another 2016. More likely we are looking at a classic reversion to the mean. The 2016 election was a bizarre oddity, with two of the least liked presidential candidates in American history running against one another. What occurred in that campaign was the stuff of campy political thrillers, with sexual assault claims made on tape and an FBI investigations launched in the final days.

More likely, we are turning back to the trajectory of almost every other campaign story in America: partisans vote partisan and popular candidates win elections. Donald Trump is running at a 37% approval rating, which is abysmal, and is alienating voters he needs in a country that is turning browner, younger, and more liberal by the second. Expectations of him are rock bottom, so a turn toward being even moderately more open and presidential will garner him praise, but he is constitutionally incapable of doing that.

“It will also lead to other minor-party candidates joining the presidential race. The multi-candidate field will further divide the anti-Trump vote, making it possible for him to get reelected simply by holding on to his current level of support.”

The crux of Sosnik’s argument is that a strong third party candidate is a near certainty in this election, and that will hurt the challenger. Putting aside the big assumption about a third party, I’m not entirely sure why he believes third party candidates automatically hurt the incumbent, history doesn’t back this up.

In 1992 Ross Perot ran against sitting president George H.W. Bush and challenger Bill Clinton as an independent, garnering 18 percent of the vote and Bill Clinton winning the election. In 1912 former President Theodore Roosevelt ran against incumbent President William Taft and Democrat Woodrow Wilson under what is still the best name of a political party in American history, the “Bull Moose Party”, resulting in votes being pulled from the incumbent and challenger Woodrow Wilson winning.

In fact I can find no evidence that strong third party candidates help the incumbent, and plenty of evidence that they help the challenger.

“Third, despite dismal poll numbers, Trump enters the contest with a job approval rating that is certainly at least marginally better than what the current national polls would suggest.”

Trump currently polls at 37.2% favorable among all adults and 40.2% among likely and registered voters. These numbers are, essentially, the margin of error. This is still the lowest approval rating of a president in American history at this point, and will likely continue to dwindle as it has with nearly every other president in history.

For comparison, Obama was at a low 52% at this time, George W. Bush was at 82%, Clinton at 50.2%, and even Carter at 58.5%. All of these numbers dwindled heavily as they continued their presidency. Making this one of your foremost points is a little odd, considering how incredibly low both numbers are. Sosnik also tends to overstate Trumps base, which polling seems to suggest around ¼ of voters who “strongly support” the president. Trump still has a long way to drop before he reached the ground, and appears to be heading that way.

“Fourth, Trump’s support has largely remained durable with a core group of supporters.”

This is true, but isn’t enough to win re-election. Trump needs big business donors willing to put their money (and their name) behind his campaign, he needs suburban moms, he needs latinos that don’t mesh culturally with the more secular Democrats. Breitbart news readers are a loud but small constituency in a large country, vastly filled by people who couldn’t care less about the day to day of politics. These people are not fired up by tweets about the NFL, but would vote Republican if it’s leader speaks to them.

His core argument is 100% correct though, if Democrats want to win they need to keep fighting. Trump is an incumbent, and incumbents tend to win their reelections. Our increasingly segregated political bubbles and confirmation bias can make Democrats think the world thinks the way they do, and they’ll be wrong. But Democrats have a great chance of winning this election cycle, if we don’t screw it up.

6 Reasons Your Political Campaign Should Invest In Digital Marketing

In Digital Marketing by Bryan Eastman

It’s campaign season again, and with that comes a slew of budgeting decisions. How much should I pay my campaign manager? Do we invest in television? Is this a field heavy campaign or communications heavy campaign?

Regardless of the structure of your campaign you should be thinking hard about your investment in digital marketing. Companies are spending an average of 30% of their spending on digital marketing, with that number growing rapidly. Political campaigns are running far behind, with about 10% spent on digital marketing. But campaigns are wising up to the potential, and the industry is growing rapidly. Here are 6 reasons you should be spending more on digital marketing:

1.) It’s big . . . and growing

At one time internet marketing was disregarded as a tool to only reach millenials, that isn’t true anymore. 90% of Americans use the internet and 69% of Americans are on social networks. This is quickly growing among older Americans, with 67% of those over 65 using the internet. This has climbed from a measly 12% in 2000.

But most importantly it’s where people are learning, interacting, and getting their news. Sixty-seven percent of Americans receive their news from social media, with Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter leading the way. In total, 45% of Americans learn their news from Facebook alone. This isn’t just millennials. Millennials make up just 25% of Facebook’s news users, with the largest cohort being users aged 30-49.

2.) It’s Microtargeted

Consultants talk a lot about microtargeting in political campaigns. The reason should be obvious, study after study shows that only a very narrow sliver of the electorate is swayable, and what sways them changes from person to person.

In direct mail and door knocking the data you’re basing your contact decisions on is majority voter data and census data with some consumer data appended to that. This can be incredibly limiting, making large assumptions about people based on little information.

Meanwhile, digital marketing behemoths like Google and Facebook have an incredible amount of data on your searching and website habits, but also addend that with data from big players like Experian, Acxiom and Epsilon where they receive consumer and other data. It means they know know more about each voter than a voter roll possibly could, with powerful results.

At the same time, large advertisers like Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and third party vendors are nearly all now allowing you match targeted ads to your voter file, making the integration with your campaign that much more seamless and robust.

3.) It’s Cost Effective

Digital marketing is far and away the cost effective way to reach a voter. Whether in Facebook, display, video, or mobile ads, the cost to reach a targeted voter can be as much as 20x less than other mediums. Below is data from Stanley Research looking at the average cost per 1,000 impressions on the most common ways campaigns reach voters.

This makes it a great avenue to improve name identification and hammer home your core messages. We use it frequently hit a larger universe than our core voters, to ensure every voter has a chance to hear our message before election day. The possibilities are endless.

4.) It’s Measurable

Campaigns can, at times, feel like you’re throwing money into a black box. You sit with your consultant and design television, direct mail, and radio spots, then put them out into the world. You never know how the average swing voter is responding to your messaging or if it’s resonating.

This isn’t the case with digital marketing, you know down to the second how your targets are responding to your ads, and how various subgroups within that audience are responding. Through use of statistical analyses like “A/B testing” you can quantitatively show what pictures, messages, and asks are resonating with each audience to keep you on the right track.

5.) It’s Personal

Voters can be cynical and skeptical, and no more than when your stamped as coming from a political campaign. After years of fabricated smears and negative quotes taken out of context, who can blame them?

Social media advertising doesn’t completely get around this barrier, but it punches a big hole in it. Instead of just being a campaign talking at a voter, social media allows you to speak through their friends and family. By sharing, liking, and commenting on the ads and posts you push out it brings implicit endorsements from those closest to them.

6.) It brings in the dough

In a campaign you need to raise a lot of money from a lot of people very quickly. This means knowing who they are, getting them acquainted with you, getting them into a one on one where you can make the ask for donations.

In digital marketing we refer to this as the “funnel”, the steps your customer takes before they convert to the action you want them to. Digital marketing is a perfect addendum to a strong fundraising plan.

You can place your targeted donor list into a system like Everblues and target those donors with information about your candidate. By the time your candidate is calling your donor prospect they’ve heard about her a dozen times, and you know how he’s responded to those and can plan accordingly. It makes the fundraising go that much quicker and smoother.

 

Digital marketing is an important addition to a campaign plan. Direct mail, television, field, and phone banking all play critical parts of  a well rounded campaign plan, but digital marketing is an important and growing tool in every campaigns toolkit. It can be overwhelming, with complex acronyms, statistical analysis, and many more mediums to learn and invest in. We here at Everblue Communications have years of experience in digital marketing on political campaigns, and are here to take your campaign to victory using cutting edge tools and tactics. Sign up for a consultation to learn how digital marketing can help your campaign.