At a fascinating Center for American Progress event yesterday, former national deputy director of Organizing for America Jeremy Bird outlined the four key objectives Team Obama pursued during the 2012 election. Every member of the campaign, from David Axelrod on down, was focused on one or more of these objectives.
1. Registration. The campaign increased the size of the electorate by registering voters they felt were likely to support the president. There was a particular focus on registering core Obama support groups—nonwhites, unmarried women, and millennials.
2. Persuasion. Once a voter was registered, it was time to persuade them to vote for Obama. Persuasion tactics ran the gamut from television to direct mail, but the most effective way was to have a volunteer engage them in face-to-face communication.
3. Turnout. Team Obama made it as easy as possible for their core voters to get to the polls by providing reminders, transportation, and emphasizing early voting. The early vote was a key part of their strategy because core Obama supporters tend to be less likely voters than average. Thus, the campaign knew that giving them multiple opportunities to cast their ballot would be key.
4. Organization building. Instrumental to all three steps above was having a solid organization. Past Democratic campaigns had relied heavily on outside groups such as organized labor to provide manpower and local expertise, and while Team Obama was happy to accept their help again this year, they also decided that having their own network was vital. This would allow them the greatest degree of control possible over the campaign’s messaging and activities.
The Obama campaign felt that person-to-person communication was vitally important, so they instituted a new model for volunteers. Rather than the traditional “precinct captain” model, they created local neighborhood teams.
These local teams were connected with the overall campaign via an organizer who would work with and learn from the volunteers. This system encouraged team building and a feeling of community among the volunteers, which Bird said made them work all the harder and become even more committed to the president’s cause.
Bird also credited the campaign’s strategy of building multiple field offices in a state (a practice which Republicans mocked) because someone is much more likely to volunteer if there is an office in their neighborhood.
The biggest thing to happen in 2012 was that Team Obama figured out how to integrate the on- and offline aspects of their campaign into a seamless whole. This allowed them to combine online and real-world actions into a more effective overall message. In particular, the campaign’s ability to collect Big Data and quickly transmit the information to their motivated locals made those volunteers’ efforts even more effective.
While Team Obama’s objectives weren’t particularly revolutionary—get the most votes!—their tactics certainly were. In particular, their dedication to building a grassroots field organization and commitment to investing in data gave them an edge that the GOP simply couldn’t match. It remains to be seen whether this infrastructure will disappear once President Obama leaves office or whether it can successfully be transmitted to another candidate, but either way the lessons learned here will benefit Democratic politicians for many years to come. The GOP has work to do.
Click here for full video of Mr. Bird’s speech, as well as an interesting panel discussion on the future of the Obama coalition.