D-GOTV: Do Digits Drive Turnout?

Ross Fadner, Director, Event Programming, MediaPost, Alex Kellner, Managing Director, Bully Pulpit, Billy McBeath, Digital Director, American Crossroads, Jess Reid, Digital Director, Kaine for Virginia, Jeffrey Rich, Digital Political Director, RNC

Ross: Talk about how digital reinforces this field game. Specific to what you worked on in 2018.

Jess: Text out the vote. One thing it changes is capacity to reach everyone on the Internet., How do you evolve this message over time. 

Jeffrey: Typically, you’re targeting different universes. When you do GOTV advertising, you’ll have a bank of people you want to make sure they get out.

Ross: In the last cycle, what was your goal?

Jess: Turnout is time-bound. All spend is in the last six weeks. It balanced at maybe 20% or less of our spend was on turnout over the last 8 weeks.

Billy: Spent heavily on video assets. 

Jeffrey: We go really heavy on TV. A large chunk of our budget goes toward turnout.

Alex: One org I worked with, NextGen America, talking with 18 to 35 year olds. Spend 95% of budget on mobilization, turnout. Most vote Democratic. It’s all about the path to victory. On Dem side, wave of enthusiasm in lots of places. 

Ross: Who won the midterms?

Alex: House Democrats.

Jeffrey: GOP had victories in Senate, Dems in House.

Ross: What did you learn about GOTV this time around? 

Jess: Turnout happens more naturally in presidential elections.

Ross: Record voters in midterms. Did you just do your jobs well?

Billy: Donald Trump helped Democrats. Turnout varies dramatically. 

Alex: GOTV very tactical, ask people to pledge to vote, then remind them about it. Ask people to make a plan to vote. What we did differently, ran a lot of GOTV ads that didn’t mention candidates. Make people confident that their vote mattered. Talking about Trump and what’s happened to their country. They need to feel invested in voting. Not necessarily the candidate that will get them out.

Jeffrey: Generic social pressure ads were the most successful. 

Alex: Social pressure does work but you can’t go too far.

Ross: What did you learn? What could you improve?

Billy: biggest thing we saw was texting was great. Email funnels doing great. Procession of digital. Display, text. Hammering audiences. Having A/B audience, Election Day audience.

Jeffrey: Transparency tools were effective. Good for consumers to see all. A concern for GOP when you have media putting out opinionated headlines.

Jess: Transparency is only good. It’s only fair that we should answer questions. In Virginia, we flipped House seats, showed value of having true coordination as much as possible across the ticket.

Alex: Everyone should be transparent online. Less money went to some platforms that could have been strategic. We expanded our targets. GOTV is for infrequent voters. Ceiling there. Limited number of people this applies to. Dems this cycle expanded that. Bring new people in the process. Narrow parameters when retargeting.

Ross: Social game, how has it changed since 2016? What formats have changed? Influencer marketing? 

Jeffrey: Earned media, we have benefit as president has high search on Twitter. $4 billion in free earned media in 2016. In terms of what channels we’re spending, good results with YouTube, buying programmatic inventory this cycle.

Jess: We like digital and new media, wild ride over last few cycles. Our target voters are not huge Twitter users. There needs to be a reassessment of what falls under which categories. Influencer marketing is interesting. We did some with press influencers. Virginia senate race was interesting. Some insane things going on. We ran a lot of targeted ads around Richmond, D.C., to get things in front of their face. Really to try to get press coverage. Weren’t answering emails.

Phil: Influencer marketing is in a very early campaign thing that you should be using. Can push entire agenda out there. When it comes to networks, spent a lot of time looking at efficiencies. How do you equalize everything out, CPS view, where is your best dollar spent? Not caring about which medium we were buying on.

Alex: Organic vs paid, yes presidents‘ tweets get picked up by everyone. we need to be able to empower our audience, supporters, trust them to produce content and talk to their friends. Messenger will have to change even more in 2020.

Ross: Breakout year for texting. How will that evolve? In-app alerts, notifications.

Jess: Most critical thing in texting important to have conversation back and forth. It’s tempting just to hit send, push notification, not have back and forth. Not real respectful. It’s only gonig to be a problem if people don’t have conversations over long term. Data sharing over time has to happen.

Alex: I think 2020 will be key to text messaging, same way that Gmail filters out campaign emails, the same will happen in text messaging. We should use it now.

Ross: Jeff, I read RNC strategy focusing heavily on field ops. You’ve got this permanent volunteer force in key states. How did you build your database? Top down? Using publicly available data?

Jeff: GOP data works as a top down and bottom up approach. Doing surveys out in the field. Any GOP candidate can use data. Very rich data set. 

Jess: Dems have some data reckoning to do to make sure party is using everything efficiently. DNC is doing a great job. 

Alex: There’s a lot of data sharing. 

Ross: Demographics of GOTV, low hanging fruit. Independents, swing voters. How do you regard them?

Alex: Don’t spend any time turning out independents. 50-50 chance of voting for other side. Our dollars are limited. Two interventions is a lot of work when there are better targets.

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