Project Wonderful

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ask An Election Nerd: Coordination Frustration

I am an FO on a coordinated campaign, and it is my first show. I am finding that local campaigns seem to hate us! Also, each of the candidates seems to have their own low-key field team outside the coordinated, and they keep reaching out and confusing my volunteers! Is this common? I have one vol who probably won't come out again because he thinks the coordinated is just not a thing. I don't know what to tell him!

Ah the eternal struggle of the coordinated! This is a great question and one I have addressed more or less in the past, but it comes up every year and it’s something I wish I (and almost everyone I’ve ever worked with) had better understood.

When it comes to coordinating (as in most campaign inter-personnel matters) empathy is the name of the game. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess both from the tone of your question and the necessity of your situation that you believe your campaign is the most important, if not in the country then certainly in your office. Good! As well you should! Organizing is a job where sometimes in order to get through the day it helps to believe with certainty that your work has dire consequences for the state and the nation. Well guess what? So does everybody else there.

Let’s talk a little bit about how a coordinated campaign works. Various candidate campaigns “buy in” to the coordinated through the state party to be part of the coordinated effort. The amount they pay is usually dictated by their budget, which generally varies by the size of the race. Thus a gubernatorial candidate who is running statewide is sure to contribute a greater amount toward the coordinated budget than a state senate candidate who is running only her in own district.

Naturally, campaigns that contribute more to the coordinated effort have a greater influence over its direction and content. This means that while a coordinated campaign might ID for all of its candidates, canvassing and phone scripts only include persuasion for the one or two candidates “at the top of the ticket.” Likewise, while canvassers and callers might be trained to ID for all candidates, the reality is that the number of IDs collected for each candidate dwindles as you move down the script by which time voters get annoyed and callers get lazy. This, by the way, is why coordinated campaigns are at their best during GOTV when you’re just turning out rather than ID’ing and persuading voters.

As you can imagine, state legislative campaigns want an opportunity to persuade and voters as well. In addition, while targeting for most Democratic campaigns is similar, it is far from identical. Race, religion, gender, record and opponent might all play into a local campaign wanting to target a slightly different group of voters from the coordinated, which is driven by the state party and top of the ticket candidates. Let’s say you live in a conservative part of a swing state and the top ticket candidate has a moderate Republican opponent for an open seat. In a statewide race, your vote goal might only call for you to win 35% of your county. However in a race where your county encompasses 80% of the district, 35% isn’t gonna cut it. Now let’s say a conservative Democrat is running for State Senate in that area and her opponent made insensitive comments about sexual violence, and was caught using cocaine and having a sexual relationship with one of his interns. She might try appealing to moderate Republicans, or Republican women, people who you probably don’t want to remind that there’s an election at all.

My point is yes, there is truth to the axiom that a rising tide floats all ships, but not in all cases. Everyone here has a job to do and no one wants to give up control, for reasons that vary from valid to ego-driven. Remember, they’re no more “your” volunteers than theirs.

So, what to do? I wrote a post about coordinating campaigns at a slightly higher level than you’re talking about last year, but I think a lot of the same advice still applies.

First off, I highly recommend coming up with a calling/canvassing schedule. If your field director hasn’t already mandated this make up a calendar of where your volunteers will be knocking/calling when and work it out so this doesn’t coincide with other campaigns. Not only will you avoid turf wars, but you’ll get a better response rate and be more efficient as you benefit from each other’s data collection.

When it comes to volunteers, you’re dealing with a limited pool of resources so occasional conflict is inevitable. With a volunteer in the situation you described I would propose one of the following solutions. Either 1) If this is a regular volunteer set up a weekly schedule with her and the other campaign where she volunteers for you on Monday and them on Weds (or whatever.) 2.) Agree with this other campaign’s organizer/field director to have this specific volunteer call your list when she comes in but make sure she uses a script that to includes (or even begins with) their candidate’s persuasion message. This type of stuff happened on the ground from time to time when I was an FO/Regional . As long as it’s only one or two volunteers (and of course you can’t do this with all of them) for the sake of peace in your office, what your field director doesn’t know won’t hurt her. (Sorry Coordinated Director/Statewide Field Director friends…Sorry! Sorry! I love you!)

Another important rule of thumb for keeping a peaceful coordinated office is when you say you’re going to do something, do it.
If you promise not to call a certain volunteer list on Wednesdays and you are then compelled by your field director to call that list, be upfront about it and work out a solution with your office mate. She will trust and like you a lot more if you keep her in the loop rather than go behind her back and create more tension.

Finally, we’re back to empathy. Acknowledge that you are all in a stressful situation with finite resources and nerves are gonna get frayed, but at the end of the day you have way more in common with each other than you do with most people. The more you can foster a “we’re in this together” mentality in your office the better off you’ll be.

I hope that helps! Thank you for all the amazing work you’re doing out there and thanks for reading.

Campaign Love and Mine,


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