Monday, August 1, 2022

On the stupidity of Democratic organizers [fewer emails, more retail politics]

Lara Putnam and Micah L. Sifry, Fed Up With Democratic Emails? You’re Not the Only One. NYTimes, August 1, 2022.

National Democratic and progressive groups together burned through the surge of liberal organizing under Mr. Trump, treating impassioned newcomers like cash cows, gig workers and stamp machines to be exploited, not a grass-roots base to be tended. Worse, research by academics and political professionals alike suggests many of the tactics they pushed to engage voters proved ineffective.

Some may even have backfired. Millions of dollars and hours were wasted in 2018 and 2020. And yet, as the party stares down a bleak midterm landscape, with abortion rights on the line, the Democratic establishment and progressive organizations alike are doubling down on the same old tactics.

For all the conflict between mainstream Democratic and progressive leaders, most share a common way of thinking about electoral politics. To the “Beltway Brain,” as we think of it, voters are data points best engaged via atomized campaigns orchestrated from afar.

The core role of supporters is to be whipped into panicked giving by messages like this one from Nancy Pelosi on April 28: “I asked — several times. Barack Obama told you the stakes. Joe Biden made an urgent plea,” she said. [...]

Inside Democratic fund-raising circles, this tactic is known as “churn and burn”: a way of squeezing money out of individual donors that reliably produces brief spikes in donations but over the course of an election cycle overwhelms their willingness to keep giving. Even worse, these apocalyptic messages fuel despair. If “democracy is in the balance” and then Democrats fail to pass restorative measures, voters inevitably must wonder, why keep trying?

This is no way to actually organize the electorate:

Recent studies show that the effectiveness of such approaches varies from small to nil to negative. People who volunteer on campaigns are often nothing like other Americans in their politics. The gulf is particularly wide on the Democratic side, where infrequent and swing voters of all ethnicities, ages and life experiences tend to encounter highly educated, liberal and white volunteers.

In elections where voters are already getting bombarded with ads, the odds that a volunteer contact can help get people to the polls may be canceled out by the odds the contact will turn them off entirely.

Retails politics is the way:

Doubters may ask if this kind of retail politics can scale up. But the real question is, how have national Democrats and progressives fooled themselves into believing a party can survive without it? Logistics experts know the last mile of a delivery is generally the most expensive and that the rest is worthless without it. A container truck is not going to get a package into a cul-de-sac and up the steps to the porch, no matter how sophisticated the routing software, without an actual local person involved.

A political party that has few, if any, year-round structures in place to reach voters through trusted interlocutors — and learn from how they respond — can do no more than lurch from crisis to crisis, raising money off increasingly apocalyptic emails, with dire warnings “sounding the alarm” about a democracy in “immediate danger of falling.”

Republicans, of course, also treat the news as an endless series of crises. But their calls to oppose socialism or critical race theory or transgender-inclusive bathrooms generate energy that flows into local groups that have a lasting, visible presence in their communities, such as anti-abortion networks, Christian home-schoolers, and gun clubs.

There's more at the link.

For comparison, see my earlier post, Protest isn't enough [social media facilitates protest without grass-roots building].

No comments:

Post a Comment