Sunday, June 17, 2018

Yard Signs, Again, Ad Nauseum

Here we go again. More information we already knew about yard signs. But go ahead, waste your campaign dollars. But try keeping it to under 2 percent of the budget please:

(From the Washington Post - The Fix) 

Sorry campaign managers: Lawn signs are only 98.3 percent useless.

Volunteer Corey Essler holds a sign for Rick Santorum, Monday, in Menasha, Wis. in 2012. (AP)
No one loves lawn signs more than political candidates. Political candidates love lawn signs because 1. They love seeing their name around, 2. They assume that the number of lawn signs they see somehow correlates to the level of support they enjoy and 3. They know that campaigns have lawn signs, and candidates are biased toward mimicking what winning candidates have done. Between 1984 and 2012, according to one study, use of lawn signs in campaigns quadrupled.

The problem with lawn signs, as any campaign manager would probably tell you, is that they are expensive, annoying, logistically tricky to distribute and — most importantly — don’t seem to do much of anything. Candidates like to feel as if they’re winning. Campaign managers like to know that they’re winning or at least making progress. So campaign managers like things that have either measurable effects on voters (like identifying targeted supporters) or demonstrated past effects (like advertising). Lawn signs don’t fit into either category. To a campaign manager, lawn signs are similar to randomly handing out fliers at a grocery store: a waste of time, money and energy.

Now there’s data out that, in the main, proves campaign managers right. Last October, we spoke with Donald Green, a professor at Columbia University who has done decades of work assessing the utility of various methods of voter outreach. He's also the lead author of a study released this month that evaluates the efficacy of lawn signs. Green partnered with researchers at universities in Upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia to test signs in four races at the federal, state and local level.

Cutting to the chase: “[I]t appears that signs typically have a modest effect on advertising candidates’ vote shares — an effect that is probably greater than zero but unlikely to be large enough to alter the outcome of a contest that would otherwise be decided by more than a few percentage points.” The effect of such signs, the study suggests, is about the same as direct mail.

Of the researchers’ four experiments, only one involved what you might generally think of as yard signs. In three of the experiments, signs were placed in public places within randomly assigned precincts. In the fourth, signs were placed in supporters’ yards — the thing that campaigns often spend a lot of time coordinating. In that case, interestingly, the effects were essentially zero. Aggregated, the four experiments suggested that there was a 1.7 percentage-point boost to the candidate from the signs -- with a standard error of 0.7 percentage points. (In precincts adjacent to the targeted ones, there was a slightly smaller benefit.)
(Green, et. al.) (Green, et. al.)
(The study included a sign, at right, paid for by FreedomWorks and used in the most recent Virginia gubernatorial election, which unfortunately misspelled the name of the state.)

In how many races would that sort of lawn-sign bump make a difference? Of 6,000-plus general and primary elections in House and Senate races between 2006 and 2012, only 2.2 percent of races were within 1.7 percentage points, according to our analysis of initial results. In other words, this could matter in 1-in-50 races.

The study also offers a result that candidates will love and campaign managers will hate. The effect is very small, but it would be hard for a campaign manager who's arguing for robust get-out-the-vote efforts to say no to a candidate who demands lawn signs in order to boost his margins. The silver lining is that the study suggests that the much-easier distribution of lawn signs in random public places is more effective than finding supporters and plunking signs in their yards.

But when have candidates ever sat down and considered the political science before making judgment calls in close races? Superstition dictates lawn signs, and candidates are the ones raising the money and putting their name on the ballot. The study would essentially have had to demonstrate that candidates who used them lost before a candidate would have second thoughts about the efficacy of lawn signs. And even then, he'd probably still buy them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

It's that time again!

Yes, they are still counting votes from the primary election, but if you are planning to run in the fall for a non-partisan seat on a local board or Council, now's the time to start. Gathering endorsements, making phone calls for fundraising. Hiring a consultant and getting your website up. Don't wait until July. In fact, snag a slot in the July 4th parade with your group of friends and a few signs even if they're homemade. Let people know you are running.

Start thinking about your issues, your bio, and planning that 200 word campaign statement. Assemble a small "Kitchen cabinet" to help you with issues and tasks that need to get done, like setting up houseparties, ordering walk and phone lists, interviewing consultants, a treasurer and maybe a fundraiser. You want to be organized, have a short timely message and enough funds to send out some mail, buy a few house signs and have a good handout to take with you to events and hand out at voters' homes once you hit the campaign trail in earnest.

Eat light but do go for the brain food.Here's a quick and tasty recipe:

Yummy salmon tostada

  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas
  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 6- to 7-ounce can boneless, skinless wild Alaskan salmon, drained
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced pickled jalapeƱos, plus 2 tablespoons pickling juice from the jar, divided
  • 2 cups coleslaw mix (see Tip) or shredded cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons prepared salsa
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • Lime wedges (optional)

  1. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375°F.
  2. Coat tortillas on both sides with cooking spray. Place on 2 baking sheets. Bake, turning once, until light brown, 12 to 14 minutes.
  3. Combine salmon, avocado and jalapenos in a bowl. Combine cabbage, cilantro and the pickling juice in another bowl. Process black beans, sour cream, salsa and scallions in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on High until hot, about 2 minutes.
  4. To assemble tostadas, spread each tortilla with some bean mixture and some salmon mixture and top with the cabbage salad. Serve with lime wedges, if desired.

    Thursday, June 7, 2018

    Yes, Virginia, your Vote DOES Count!

    It's Election night. I'm signing people in at our County Dem headquarters, where people have gathered to watch election results and share wine and snacks. A woman who has been volunteering to make out of district calls to help Democrats in red districts comes over to chat. "I live in [large town in our County]," she says, a town which has had a very contentious race between a long time County Supervisor and someone trying to unseat her. "But I didn't vote," she goes on. "I voted in all the other races, but I could not decide who to believe when it came to the Supervisor race."

    This race has been in the paper for weeks, months. The candidates have been walking precincts, sending brochures, attending debates and forums all winter and spring. The Democrats endorsed the incumbent. How could she not know who she wanted to vote for?

    It turns out she was what's known as a "confidential voter," who doesn't show up on the voter roles because of some issue of safety, say a stalker, or a bad domestic violence situation you are escaping from. So she received none of the usual materials from candidates.

    However, she is on our Democratic email list. She can read the local press. She can attend candidate events, and she could have asked friends, neighbors, or others she trusted. Instead she saw only TV ads, and decided she trusted neither candidate. My mind was exploding. This promises to be a close race. How could an otherwise educated, seemingly informed and involved person, be so unconcerned about the one race that will actually affect her life?

    Votes are still being counted all over California which allows vote by mail ballots to be postmarked on Election Day so long as they arrive within three days. But it looks to be a low turn-out election, even with all the hype about the possibility of "a big blue wave." We are heartened that in some red districts, Democrats are in second place in some contests for Congress, but that will mean we have to get out our voters in November in big numbers to have a chance.

    This woman will help out with that effort. She is very concerned that we take back the house. Why oh why then, I  think, does she not even bother to learn about what's happening in her own back yard? elections have been won and lost by a single vote. Your vote does count. When will people get it?

    Tuesday, May 29, 2018

    Your last few days

    Sounds ominous, doesn't? Your last few days. Not on this earth, but on the campaign trail. The election is in one week. You know a lot, maybe most, of the electorate has voted. At least those of them that  will vote that is. Turn out is presumed to be low in these off-year, down ballot primary elections. But if the race is hotly contested, if there are many candidates, and if you are not leading in the polls by double digits (and frankly, even if you are -  anything can happen now!), this is no time to slack off.

    Keep phone banking and walking those last precincts, or return to the ones you might have missed, or where no one was home. Plan your GOTV activities carefully. Know where all the polling places are located, and which precincts vote where. Make sure you get the list of consolidated precincts from your County Registrar of Voters, or City Clerk. Numbers do change, many precincts vote in the same location, and you want to be in the right place at the right time on election Day.

    Line up your "yes" voters for last weekend calls, and to check the polling place on election Day. If they haven't voted, you'll need to call and remind them, gently, to cote. Even if they are absentee voters, they can walk their ballot in to any polling place (at least in California, if you are in another state,check your jurisdiction's rules), and they can mail their ballot right up to election day so long as they arrive in three days. Best to get those ballots in early, just in case.

    Watch what the competition is doing. Any last minute attack ads that need to be addressed? Be prepared. If you have a few signs left over, plan to have some eager volunteers to "honk and wave" on election morning and commute time, to remind people "oh yeah, today's the day."

    Plan a modest party on Election Night to watch the returns come in (most will be posted on line as they are counted) and thank your volunteers. If you make into the General election in the fall, you want these volunteers to be with you all the way. Make them feel special and appreciated.

    Election Night Cookies - Yum!
    Win or lose, if you've given it your all, you will feel rewarded for a job well done, new friends made, and groundwork laid for whatever you choose to do next.

    Thursday, May 17, 2018

    Candidates Who aren't Really Running

    Why, you might ask, do people throw their hat in the ring, when they plan to spend no money on an actual campaign. They might buy a few signs, maybe print off their policy points on a sheet of paper from their home computer and attend a couple of debates. But that does not make a serious candidate. Without any effort to raise money, not a lot, but just a enough to get one or two mailers out to voters and have a walk piece to carry around to people in the precinct. Never mind a consultant to help you craft and effectively market your message, what's the point?

    Is it just to see your name on the ballot? Just to make sure the incumbent has some competition, even if it's a token race? Or is it some kind of misplaced ego thing. Do these people really believe that even with no effort on their part, somehow, voters will decide they are the best person for the job?

    In a recent race for Supervisor in a southern California county, of the eight people who filed, only four raised any money at all, with only two of those hiring a campaign consultant and sending mail into voters' homes.

    The other four filed form 470, the form that you file with the County and State, that says you plan to raise and spend no more than $2000. For a Supervisor race, even in a small county, you need to spend several thousand more than that just to reach any voters at all. Most people never get to candidate debates. A few more, but still a low percentage of the total, read the local newspapers. And guess what: Signs don't get you votes. That's generally where the $2000 is spent.

    I guess the reasoning is, "If I spend a lot of snazzy red, white and blue signs and plaster them all over the place, in the road medians and freeway exits, everyone will see my name and be sure to vote for me."

    So not true. The rule of thumb is the voter has to be "touched" by the candidate at least 7 times, and more than one of those ought to be in a mail. Other ways to reach out to voters are walking precincts, for which you need a good catchy piece to hand out, along with several volunteers to help you deliver materials, phone calls to the voters' homes, preferably by a live person and not a robo call (although there are times and circumstances when these can be very effective, if done correctly), letters to the editor, opeds in the local papers, ads online and in print, and signs. In that order of effectiveness. Notice what's last on that list. If you're in a large County, you might consider TV and radio, plus a savvy internet campaign that is carefully targeted to reach your voters with the best message that will resonate with them.

    Polling at the outset to get the lay of the land and help craft your message effectively, is always a good idea, but not necessary. In any event, even in the smallest of communities, $2000 does not get you very far. 

    You might just throw a big party with that money instead for the candidate that comes closest to your values and invite all your friends. You can have a caterer come and maybe even a small chamber orchestra. Or donate it outright. That way, you can feel your money is being put to good use, and not just adding to highway clutter with more signs.

    Thursday, April 26, 2018

    Millennials Rock the Vote

    It's great to see the number of 16 and 17 year olds who are pre-registering to vote. See this LA Times story of April 6.

    After the Parkland shootings, the #metoo movement and an accumulation of startling evnts in the recent past, teens and other millennials are coming out in record numbers to protest, speak out and register to vote.This is all great. It reminds me of my own youth when we stood up against the Vietnam War and for civil rights.  Many of us did not vote however, not only because we had to be 21 to even register in that time, but because we didn't think it would make a difference.

    Today's youth seem to understand tat it will, but only if large numbers of them follow through and actually vote when they turn 18. It will be interesting to see if they follow through, especially as so many will be off at college when election day rolls around, and either have to vote by mail at the address they registered at, usually their parents, or re-register and vote at the address they are currently at.

    The best way to make sure this follow-though happens is, in my opinion, a peer system. Young people encouraging and reminding others to vote. To keep their registration current and to keep up with the elections they can vote in.

    Do it in groups. Make it a social event. Have debate watching parties in the dorms or local hang outs. Go to the polls together. Car pool. Volunteer to work for a candidate of your choice (and maybe even get credit for it), or help on election day.

    Registering is one thing, staying involved is another, and actually casting that all-important ballot is what really matters the most in the end. Every vote counts. Make sure yours is among them.
    What to eat when getting ready to register your friends to vote: from the Millennial Cookbook.

    Cheesy chicken. You take a chicken breast, saute in some olive oil, maybe with some onion bits and garlic, turn it over, add a can of mushroom soup, or if you are feeling industrious, make some white sauce and then put in sliced mushrooms, then add a bunch of the cheese of your choice and don't let that sucker burn. turn frequently, make some rice, I like white basmati, it's tasty and fast, steam some veggies if you like, and dinner is served.

    Friday, March 23, 2018

    Blast from the Past - Good Advice from Past Blog Post

    How to Keep Your Campaign on Track

    This post first appeared in 2014. Anyone running today needs to read and heed it. No, I didn't write it (Darn, I wish I had, but I say similar things to my clients all the time so I know it's good advice). It is from Campaign in a Box. All these pointers are right on, and good to hear to keep sane during these last two weeks of campaign season. Thanks for reading.

    By Jason Chambers

    Campaigning Isn't As Intuitive As You Think

    Every campaign season - often in October - I get an "aha!" question from a candidate that goes something like this: "I was talking to Dave the other day and he said that if we add QR codes to our mail pieces, everyone will scan them and visit our website. Maybe we should call all of our volunteers and have them put QR codes on our doorbell pieces this weekend?"

    Rarely is a last minute deviation from the campaign plan a good idea. Throughout your campaign, you'll begin to better understand how campaigning works, but be careful about some of the less intuitive aspects of a political campaign. Your campaign strategy is developed in April (not October) for a reason - repetition and following a well thought out plan is the key to winning elections.
    Here are a few examples of some of the ideas I've run into that you should be wary of:

    More Targeted Voters, Not More Voters

    Often candidates will get concerned late in the campaign season that the targeted lists we use to knock on doors are ignoring too many important voters, and they'll ask if we can hit every door while we're out.

    Let's say you're running in Lexington, Kentucky for Mayor. Lexington has about 308,000 citizens. Of those 308,000 citizens, about 209,000 are registered to vote. In an off year election like 2014, about 42% will turn out to vote. That's around 87,500 voters.

    Of those 87,500 voters, approximately 30% vote Republican exclusively. Another 30% vote Democrat exclusively. The remaining 40% leaves about 35,000 voters who can be persuaded to vote for you. That's 11% of the total number of people living in houses in Lexington. So about 1 in every 9 homes you doorbell - assuming you choose to doorbell every home - is worth your time.

    Repeat the same message, over and over

    Another thing and understandably frustrates candidates is staying on message. By the end of the campaign you've heard yourself say the same thing over and over and over. Your friends and your spouse are telling you they're bored of the same thing, and you probably need to mix it up because the voters are going to get bored of hearing the same thing.

    The problem here is that your friends and family are paying close attention to your election. Nobody else is. Between work, church, the kids soccer game, budgeting for next month and the football game this weekend, most voters have 1,000 things on their minds, and elections are low on the priority list. That's why repetition of your message is a must - by election day, if a voter knows one thing about you, you're on the right track. So repeat that one message over and over and over, until it makes you sick. Then repeat it again.

    What Your Opponent Puts on Facebook Doesn't Matter

    My name has never been on the ballot, so it's hard for me to completely understand how difficult it is to hear negative things about yourself and not want to react. But you have to learn not to react. If your opponent writes "John voted to increase taxes last month" on his Facebook page and it's not true, remember two things:
    1. The people following his Facebook page are already voting for him, so don't worry about whether they think you voted to increase taxes last month.
    2. When you respond, you potentially turn a quiet attack into a public debate - and you don't want to debate whether you raised taxes or not if the attack will quietly go away by ignoring it. Half the voters will believe it, half won't. That's much worse than 95% of the voters not even knowing the attack happened. 
    Commenters on News Websites Aren't Objective

    It's helpful to get your supporters to comment on relevant stories on the newspapers website, but don't mistake the comments that disparage you as objective. Undecided voters don't jump on websites to blast you. Supporters of your opponent do. So don't freak out that some random voter doesn't like you - he's probably not random. Those comments are nearly always organized by the campaign of your opponent. Feel free to ask a few of your supporters to write positive comments about you, but don't assume that because there are 4 negative comments for every positive comment you're losing the race 4:1. Those comments are not representative of the general electorate.

    Your Opponent Probably Isn't An Evil Genius

    If you pick up a weekly neighborhood newspaper and see an ad for your opponent in it, don't worry. He doesn't have some mysterious insight about the effectiveness of weekly newspapers. He probably got a sales call from that weekly and got talked into putting an ad in it. You don't have to match him everywhere he's advertising - stick to the campaign plan and advertise where you planned to advertise.

    That One Big Idea Probably Isn't A Gamechanger

    A couple of years back I was helping out a campaign for Congress and we got so many random ideas from volunteers and donors that we started our own inside joke, "GAMECHANGER!"
    It's tempting to adopt every idea you hear from people, and often they'll expect you to and gripe when you don't. But you sit down and write a campaign months before Election Day for a reason - and you need to stick to that plan.

    A few years ago, the wife of my candidate's biggest donor ask for a meeting with the campaign a week before Election Day. Because she was married to our biggest donor, we agreed to meet. She had developed an interest in new technology, and had an idea for our campaign. She wanted us to halt the campaign and put QR codes on every piece of campaign literature we had. She was convinced that QR codes would drive thousands of voters to our website and would be the key to victory on Election Day. GAMECHANGER!

    But it wasn't a gamechanger, and we thanked her for her suggestion then went back to doorbelling. Most ideas you get from volunteers and supporters aren't worth changing your strategy for. Thank them for their time, and continue doing what you're doing.