Updated 6th of Feb 2018
The Power of Grassroots Mobilization
It's 2018 and still, all political campaigns are, at root, about people, more specifically, about people existing in communities. Getting the mix right between the mobilization of grassroots and the higher level campaign messaging is the difficult job at the heart of successful campaigns. Here we take a look at the how and why of grassroots mobilization.
One we harp on about a lot is Bernie Sanders. His 2016 bid was an excellent example of a campaign that had grassroots mobilization as one of its core tenets. Though he couldn’t be portrayed as an outsider, his origins in the second least populated state of Vermont did not place him as the obvious candidate to take on the powerhouse that was Hillary Clinton. Sanders has found huge success building a community from outside the political establishment. Focusing on securing small donations online, Sanders pushed hard through social media to build his support base. His march to Washington was inspirational and it was all thanks to his loyal and ever-expanding fan base.
Building a strong community around your candidate is what elections are all about. Creating that enduring foundation has shown itself time and again to be just as, if not more important than, campaign funding. In the last twenty years, grassroots campaigns are showing us that if you nurture and grow a movement from the ‘idea’ stage, then it can achieve anything. Gathering that momentum makes you credible to the general public and, better yet, dangerous to your opposition. It shows that you worked tirelessly long before your name ever reached the ballot box.
The Tea Party movement is another good example of grassroots growth. They came to the fore around the time of Barack Obama’s first taking office in 2009. Before Mr.Obama took his seat in the Oval in January 2009, there was already murmurings of unhappiness due to promises of giving financial aid to bankrupt homeowners. Money was being hemorrhaged thanks to a difficult economy and some conservatives wanted to know why the new administration was still promising financial assistance to those who they felt didn’t deserve it. The chatter moved to online forums where people voiced their displeasure - one suggestion was to post tea bags to the elected representatives in Congress. The name "Tea Party" is a reference to the Boston Tea Party, whose principal aim was to protest taxation without representation. By the time reporter Rick Santelli gave his now infamous rant about the ‘Government promoting bad behavior’ in Chicago, the Tea Party movement was in full flight. Described as reactionary by detractors, this political movement has nevertheless been hugely successful in representing conservative viewpoints in the perceived absence of leadership from the GOP.
Grassroots movements, as we see, can coalesce around a person or an idea and they can serve to disrupt the existing norms in a way that was not possible in the past. Leveraging the power of grassroots requires a clear strategy within your campaign HQ from the beginning and a clear commitment to social media organization and ground game activities. The payoff from grassroots work is clear though, greater credibility, more sustainable campaigns and a greater chance of success at the polls.
Campaign Messaging: The Virtuous Loop
So we can see that there are definite benefits from the hard slog of grassroots work but what is often missed is the way in which this effort feeds back into the campaign messaging. A sustained engagement with community groups and outreach work feeds back to campaign HQ in a virtuous loop that serves to craft and hone campaign messaging.
If you are going to appeal to your public you need to ensure the message you are communicating is engaging. The public knows what it likes, so you will be at an advantage if you know that too. The only way to put yourself in the public's shoes is to know what makes them tick. Gather feedback from everyone, each voice is important. Thanks to advances in political technology, this has become much easier.
Social media is a breeding ground for disgruntled people and you need to ensure that your team is there to listen and gather notes on potential voters. It is free to use and you don’t even have to leave the office to know what is troubling Mary in Iowa or Derek in Washington. Facebook is a tool that will enhance your campaign awareness and build relationships with your audience. By utilizing a Facebook page, you’re able to connect with a larger prospect pool in an efficient way. Twitter also is a powerful tool in that it helps to relay news at a moment’s notice. Broadening your channels of engagement in this way enriches your campaign and delivers real feedback to strengthen your message.
We now regularly use Instagram because it allows us to jump around from movement to movement through the virtue of hashtags, similar to Twitter but with more of a focus on visual engagement and positive community spirit. You can follow us here.
Taking all this into consideration. something groups like the Tea Party have shown themselves to be very good at is community-based initiatives. They are able to maintain a local feel and build support from the bottom up. These campaigns are refreshing to potential voters because it is the opinions of the people who have been there from the start that matter the most.
Once you have your message developed, you can test it on many platforms, not just focus groups. This should help the candidate to understand the political landscape. We can’t fight the fact that we are living in the information age, this means that there is no limit to the research and polling we can carry out. Testing your message at ground level means that by the time it has reached the higher tiers such a televised debates or campaign run-in, you're ready for all eventualities.
Implementing the detailed community-based strategy is, without doubt, the cornerstone of any successful campaign. I’m sure Obama would have had Drake’s famous song “Started from the bottom, now we here” blaring after he was inaugurated in 2009 if it had been written. Unfortunately, many before Obama have tried to succeed through this kind of community-based operation without success.
So how exactly does one get it to work?
Have a solid team on the ground canvassing. Knock on every door that you have identified as a potential vote, this is imperative. Thankfully with grassroots, volunteers work like Trojans because they believe in the cause. Follow up with potential voters to remind them to vote, it may seem redundant but it is proven that face-to-face interaction gets people out. Check out an article on the importance of GOTV here.
The issue with blanket advertising such a television ads and radio features is that it may not be reaching your target audience. This is where social media is most powerful. You can easily navigate through people, their interests, even groups that they belong to. Data analysis helps take your vote campaign to the next level and will also put you on equal footing with competitors that have deeper pockets than you.
Surround yourself with groups who share or support your ideas. Identifying with certain groups could improve your standing in the race, Bernie Sanders found support from African-American activists in Chicago who had formed the Bernie Brigade. They are attempting to showcase Sanders’ progressive platform and the long history of support for the black struggle which many people may not be aware of.
Though far from an exhaustive list we hope that this helps you to formulate the beginnings of your grassroots mobilization. If you would like to learn more about tools to help you with your community outreach efforts get in touch with us and we will help you build a strong campaign from the bottom up.