How to make best use of time supporting my political party.
February 29, 2016 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Other than posting 50 memes a day on FB denigrating the Republican party, how can I best ensure a win for a Democratic candidate.

I actually don't post anything political on my FB page because it would be teaching to the chior and I also don't want to burden people with my political opinion day in and day out. I think it's pretty clear that these memes are pretty useless in changing anyone's opinion of a politician anyway. I would like to use my time off work this year to assist the Democratic party in winning elections. For example, what kinds of things can people do that don't involve lecturing or "providing the truth" to others. Come election day, especially, do people volunteer to drive voters to the voting booth? My county is heavily blue but some of the surrounding are not, so is it possible to volunteer in a reddish county but only for democratic voters? I don't think going around getting people to register is as helpful as getting people out on election day, although I realize people need to be registered, but I'm open to suggestions , thanks!
posted by waving to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The year I drove folks to the polls, I volunteered through the local Democratic party. You're driving whoever was willing to call the Democrats to ask for a ride, so I suppose they're more likely to be Dems, but it's none of your concern who they vote for.
posted by hollyholly at 11:25 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is your state heavily blue? If not, then yes, volunteering to canvass or GOTV in neighbouring countries could be useful.
posted by salvia at 11:26 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Volunteer for a candidate (local, regional, national) - they need things like phone-banking, hanging door hangers, doing GOTV (get out the vote) outreach. Find out what your candidate(s) want or need and see what fits your temperament and schedule.
posted by rtha at 11:26 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Volunteer with candidates during the general election, provide financial support through donations to the candidate and the party.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:27 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

One other point, if you have any special professional or other skills let them know. That's really important.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:28 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot of people want to drive folks to the polls, but the Democrats don't really do that anymore, because it's a liability issue. They'd rather hire cabs to take people, and you could facilitate that by donating to campaigns.

After your state's primary, you could call your county Democratic party and ask about volunteering. They may or may not know: for the past few elections, my county's party has a somewhat adversarial relationship with the campaigns. If they can't direct you to the right place, google the name of a candidate, and contact their campaign. They will probably want you to do door-knocking. If you can't knock doors, you could make phone calls, but all the available research suggests that door-knocking is much, much more effective. Some of your door-knocking efforts may be attempting to persuade undecided voters, but most of it will probably be GOTV: voter registration, getting people to sign up for early ballots, getting them to fill out their early ballots, etc.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:29 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can, of course, volunteer for a specific candidate. If you'd rather volunteer for the Democrats in general, go to the DNC volunteer sign-up page.. You can also contact your county Democratic committee if you'd like to get in touch with someone closer to home -- just google "Democratic committee" and your county name.

What you end up doing will depend on where you are, how much time you can spend, whether you have any specific skills they need, and how close you are to the general election. Here are some things that me & my fellow untrained volunteer friends have done:
- Canvass voters door-to-door, both in my area and in another state with more undecided voters
- Phone bank to talk to undecided voters
- Phone bank voters on election day to arrange rides and remind folks to vote
- Help with voter registration drives
- Help run a local GOTV campaign it possible to volunteer in a reddish county but only for democratic voters?
Absolutely -- the campaigns have sophisticated databases and they create very strategically targeted lists to work at different times of the election cycle. So for instance, if you're volunteering a month before the general, they might give you a list of undecided voters; if it's the day of the general, you'll be talking to likely Democratic voters in order to GOTV.

Basically, just get in touch with whatever section of the Democratic party you feel closest to, and start from there. They'll set you up and teach you to do whatever it is they need most in your part of the world.
posted by ourobouros at 12:13 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Phone bank! I started phone banking last week because I'm in a late-primary blue state and wanted to reach out to super Tuesday states. It's extremely easy (you can even do it from home) and adds to the data pool of information about which way registered voters are leaning. I usually hate cold calling people, but, honestly, most people are willing to answer a few poll questions once you have them on the phone a moment. The point of phone banking isn't to sway or argue with the voter, but to get some key information that can be further acted upon. From there, the data can be used to target canvassing or other outreach activities.

I'm also into social science research and the glimpse into the quant and qualitative data that's being generated is so interesting.
posted by homesickness at 12:49 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a lot of good practical advice here in terms of direct action – which not only do I agree with, but also is probably the best use of time. While Facebook is a strong tool for broadcast messaging, it's akin to advertising which is to say that the effectiveness is largely unknown. As far as I know, the most effective way to drum up support for a political candidate is one-on-one engagement.

It's important to realise that authenticity plays a key component in that, for you are not only looking to sway an undecided voter to a specific candidate, you are looking to engage them with your own political view. That doesn't mean "telling" them who to vote for, but rather provoking a discussion based on critical thinking and shared opinions. One of the most powerful ways to do that is to create the frame. It's easy to say "I'm a democrat and I want the democrats to win," and I feel you must go beyond that if you are to encourage someone to make the right decision for themselves.

That last point is very important, for you ultimately are not looking for them to come to your side, rather you are creating a shared meaning as to what it means to make the decision to vote. That this election has both opportunities and consequences, and it is important that they make a critical distinction about the candidates, understand their values and policies, and make a decision that they can stand behind.

That is going to be supremely important in this election, for the Republican party is in the depths of confusion at this point, representing little more than a label and a colour than an attachment to values or tradition. The watch area (and what the Republican candidate(s) will be banking on) are people who vote "Republican", when the reality is that the party has fallen into disarray and chaos. Therefore a Republican vote is not a vote for the traditional values that it may have upheld before. Now, the Republican party is an opportunist / extremist party running against people and policies, rather than for a unified cohesive vision or other set of values.

That is immensely dangerous and exactly what the leading candidate both identified as the opportunity, and now is banking on. He is a 'master' of brand, and using brand to capture sales, which is exactly what he is doing now. It was obvious that there wasn't a strong Republican in the fold, for Rove and Bush's co-option strategies fragmented the Republican party (but that's a discussion for another time). Seeing the vacuum, the current candidate saw 1) a major political party, 2) without a strategy or vision, and 3) without a figurehead to attach to. In the same way that he's done in business – with varying measures of success – he is now taking control of the Republican brand by identifying it with himself. One could say that's genius, but it's not genius. Rather, it's the veneer of untouchability that Washington has cultivated – that the political process is controlled and shape by layers of forces, from the local city level to the national level.

Citizens trust that there is a functional – if opaque – system in place that promotes specific agendas. There's a trust mechanism there, which is that the citizens allow that system to function, so long as it produces results that are plausibly fair and reasonable. Hence, the narrow differences between the parties. In the past two decades, Republicans and Democrats have fought mainly over political / social issues, while leaving financial and economic issues largely untouched. The gist being that the machine is left with the trust of the ultimate driver of American power – the economy – and the politicians then largely focus on specific social / political agendas.

But no more. The power vacuum in the Republican party left a serious message gap. The machinery that has been constructed to get the message out – the brand – was intact, but there was nothing on the airwaves. No specific message nor voice. What's happened then – it appears from afar – is that the leading Republican candidate has stepped into that gap and is using the brand and the machinery, slowly but consistently aligning it with plausible yet distinctly off-message views. The way that expresses is that many people will say "I'm a Republican" in the sense that they are attached to specific values, only now the brand and the values diverge.

Therein lies your target, opportunity, and challenge if you are looking to move people toward a Democratic view. If that candidate continues to push the ball downfield toward the nomination and beyond, there will be a fracturing of the party, however there's also the chance that the party will close in and align support. At that point, the brand wins and the values will be re-shaped.

And it's precisely that message that has the best chance to shape opinions. Which is that this is not the Republican party of Reagan, Bush, Bush, Romney, etc. But rather a hijacked version that doesn't necessarily subscribe to conservative values in any form. Hence why the basis of the conversation must be to move the conversation to the point of critical thinking, and away from brand/party allegiance. Because brand/party allegiance is exactly what has created and will create the current scenario.

To do that, it's probably most effective to go beyond the party and into the people. What are their values, what do they represent, and what are their qualifications. The more you can stay away from the party and focus on the qualifications of the person, the better the argument for critical thinking plays.

For example, my own considerations are:

1) how will this person deal with international politics? Russian/American relations? The Iranian nuclear programme? The instability in the Chinese financial system? The political protests in Hong Kong? The weakening of the European project?

2) How will this person deal with the very real influence of technology and medicine on our lives? Artificial intelligence regulations? Encryption rights? Superbugs? Water scarcity? Climate change and energy policy?

3) How will this person treat civil rights? Will they take balanced views or favour specific groups? Will they appoint moderates or radicals to the supreme court? How will they handle things like a burgeoning prison population? Income inequality?

Those are the very real issues that we face, and what's on the table in this election. And that all goes far beyond "brand" and "party", whether Republican or Democrat. That goes into how a candidate sees the world.

What has their experience been both on the domestic stage and the world stage?
Who will they surround themselves with?
What will the cabinet look like?
When they've made mistakes in the past, how have they handled those mistakes?
Who are their friends, and who are they enemies?
To what depth do they understand their role and duty?
What will the champion? What will they ignore?
Who is this person, and what kind of leader will they be?

Starting to look at the potential candidates from that lens, we begin to think critically about their ascension into the role, and what they will do when there. That's necessary to get beyond slogans like "Make American Great Again". Which is a nice alignment of words, but devoid of any actual meaning or depth.

Using that as an example, what is wrong with America?

Wealth inequality?
Declining standard of living?
Debt burdens?
Ecological changes / natural resource pressures?
Ageing population?

If we start from the point that it's not enough to say "Make America Great Again", first we must say 'what is the problem we are trying to solve?' Once we have established the problem, we can then begin discussing the candidates in proxy to a solution.

Let's consider wealth inequality. There are two candidates, one who has spent her career in public office, and one who has spent his career using American bankruptcy laws to play a real estate poker game. The former has received large payments from firms like Goldman Sachs and others for speaking. The latter was gifted a large inheritance.

If we then consider what effect each candidate is going to have on the wealth equality issue, what would that be? Which one is more likely to see wealth inequality as a problem? Which one is going to actually follow-through on using the position to discuss and address the problem? Which candidate is at greater risk of using the position to actually increase wealth inequality?

Finally, the most important thing about the critical thinking exercise is that you are using your position to get someone to think critically about their position. It's not simply rattling off party slogans and saying, "come join our club because we're the people with the first female president!" – although that may work. It's a deeper process of understanding what the emotional triggers are that will get the person to think deeply about this issue, and actually look at it objectively and seek out their own truth, according to new information, outside the content that will dominate channels like social media.

The key to securing victory to a Democratic candidate in this race is to combat the single dominant trait which has been identified in supporters of Trump to this point – a preference for authoritarianism. People tend toward authoritarianism when they no longer think they can make a difference – when they feel helpless to make decisions or govern themselves. When they feel that external forces are so vast/great/complex/overpowering that rather than take the time to understand the issues, they want a strong leader who assures them safety and success.

It's an emotional response to fear. He's using that fear to stoke the fear. "Make American Great Again" because American's not great now. Things are changing very quickly, and we have a lot of issues on the table now. People aren't necessarily scared of external threats like terrorism – although they may be – but rather seems to be a sense (from afar) that the world is out of control. Trump has done well as associating "the complex world" reality with the "American is broken" message. For he gives a very specific voice to discomfort. If I'm uncomfortable about my life and don't understand the implications of all that going around me, I am in a mild state of distress, but I can't name it, for part of the state of distress is the complexity.

Then he gives it a very specific target and message. "You are upset because American is no longer great. Because people have lied to us, and now we are being destroyed not from without, but from within. I am confident and courageous, and I will stand up to them for you and make American Great Again."

That's a message that people want to hear, and it's landing. The only problem is that it's completely irrational to think that Trump can actually navigate the complexity. That's a rational decision – critical thinking – in the context of an emotional attachment driven by fear. Thus, the true solution for bringing people to a centre point from which they can make a rational decision is to identify exactly how he purports to assuage their fear.

What are they actually afraid of – specifically – and then what policies does he have that will specifically address that fear.

What you want here is for the person your discussing with to get curious. What are his policies? Gosh, I like what he says, but how is he going to do that? I am afraid of not being able to support myself in old age, what is his specific agenda for aged care?

And you're not going to be alone in this, for my guess would be that this is going to be the Democratic strategy employed if he's successful at winning the primary. They're not going to fight him, they're going to gently and continuously question him. The Democratic strategy is going to go for reasonable doubt with him. It's going to be death by 1,000 cuts for the Republican party, because when it comes to the specifics, all he can do is repeat the mantra.

The grassroots version of that is to do the same in a local community. Get people thinking. Move them beyond fear or discomfort, and into a place of "please, specifically, how is he going to solve that problem?" or "what's not great about America" How is he going to fix that".

The ultimate weapon here is curiosity. By extending that curiosity to undecided / Republican voters, your goal is to get them to model you. By you inquiring as to their motivations, the goal is for them to inquire about their own – and ideally those of the people around them. For the problem with a hijacked brand is that there aren't coherent / aligned values behind it. By making people curious as to what is behind this new brand of Republicanism, we have the best chance of getting them to see that it's rooted in unsavoury values and megalomania.

Apologies for the long post, and hope it was worth your time to read. I very much believe that we do need direct action on this, however, it's a particularly insidious campaign because it's the confluence of a strong brand, a power vacuum, a charismatic psychopath, and a world that is changing perhaps a bit faster than most people are comfortable with.
posted by nickrussell at 12:49 PM on February 29, 2016 [21 favorites]

So for instance, if you're volunteering a month before the general, they might give you a list of undecided voters; if it's the day of the general, you'll be talking to likely Democratic voters in order to GOTV
Depends where you live, but where I am, we're ideally deep into GOTV a month before the election. GOTV is heavily focused on convincing people to vote early, and early voting starts in September. Getting people to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots happens before that. We were still doing persuasion a month before the election in 2014, but that was a sign that we were going to lose.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:58 PM on February 29, 2016

I'm more worried about what happens after _either_ candidate wins the next election. There's so much fear and anger on both sides that I think making overtures to people with different viewpoints might be the most valuable contribution anyone can make.
posted by amtho at 1:30 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Contact your local Democratic party and let them know you're willing to do whatever to help out. Local politics are thankless. It takes a lot of work, and there's a TON of stuff to do. They are always looking for volunteers. They probably have a booth at your county fair where they pass out candidates' literature; volunteer to do that. (This is the case at a lot of other local events as well: high school football games, etc.) Volunteer to lick envelopes for mailers or make calls at a phone bank. There are various campaign events that need all sorts of setup and teardown; offer to be the guy who sets up the tables at a meet-and-greet. Go canvassing door-to-door (I did this over summers in college and it was some of the most fun I've had in my life). And, of course, fundraising. Your county party should be able to put you in contact with individual campaigns, but it wouldn't hurt to reach out to those campaigns directly as well, especially state legislative races. Let them tell you what to do; they know what they need. You might also reach out to your state party and to neighboring counties' parties as well, although you'll probably have the best luck with your home county.

Lastly, if you're interested in getting any Democrats elected, I'd really strongly urge you to focus on local-ish races. So much media attention is focused on national candidates, but local politics is so interesting, and your efficacy is so much greater. Oh, and you'll probably have a blast and make great friends.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:11 PM on February 29, 2016

"My county is heavily blue but some of the surrounding are not, so is it possible to volunteer in a reddish county but only for democratic voters?"

Since canvassing often is more about turning out voters than persuading them, it's almost guaranteed that you're more likely to be talking to Democrats than Republicans. Sometimes you'll end up doing precinct-based canvassing, which can mean occasionally getting a Republican door-knock, but generally the advice there is to stay chipper, don't actually engage, and move on quickly. Your time will almost always be better spent turning weak supporters into stronger supporters than it will be trying to convince people that disagree — to the extent that often, opposition messaging isn't aimed at actually convincing the other person, but rather just demotivating them from actually coming out and voting. Trying to engage and persuade opposite partisans is therefore often a bigger risk than reward for most volunteers, as pretty much every canvasser has had the experience of inadvertently reminding an idiot from the opposite side to actually vote.
posted by klangklangston at 3:29 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Volunteer with Election Protection and help people exercise their right to vote. While this isn't a party-affiliated group, restrictive laws around voting are largely designed to reduce numbers of Democratic votes (with the side "benefit" of mass disenfranchisement).
posted by capricorn at 7:02 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a total hypocrite who doesn't follow this advice: Put in the time to understand local issues and support local candidates, especially state legislature and below.

It's easy to get excited (or worried) in 2016 about national issues. And then to complain that neither party has a candidate who represents your issues, or that the party "apparatus" is not on your side, or that the candidate once elected can't get things through Congress. Getting people you like engaged and elected and showing you'll support them gets you better candidates and gives them more ability to do what you want.

This is doubly important for progressives and/or Democrats, who (1) get a broad coalition together for presidential elections that is competitive but are less likely to vote in off-years and (2) don't have permanently funded lobbyists and government affairs offices working in low profile settings to add loopholes, elect sympathetic candidates, block ordinances and generally screw things up whenever your back is turned.
posted by mark k at 11:04 PM on February 29, 2016

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