As the debate continues about when to return to the ballot to repeal Prop 8, more important questions simmer beneath the surface. What should the campaign itself look like? What will it entail? What will it require of the LGBT community in California and beyond in terms of resources, and can we pull those resources together?
Sarah Callahan, Courage Campaign's new COO, has some of the most extensive field experience in California and has worked on numerous campaigns. After hearing Sarah speak at the Leadership Summit in Fresno the day after Meet in the Middle, Unite the Fight decided to ask Sarah to speak from her pool of knowledge on the challenges facing the LGBT community and its next campaign.
In a combination of emails and phone calls, Unite the Fight was able to get from Sarah a broad glimpse of the campaign to come, who characterized its complexity as "threading a needle" by being "super, super targeted" or by "micro-targeting", which she described as ID'ing the voters and where they stand on marriage equality, finding out what messages resonate with them, breaking that information down, then going back and persuading them to vote in our favor.
And "if you are able to persuade, it's a flag to go back" and talk to that voter again.
(Sarah's responses are italicized for clarification.)
QUESTION: With the Simon/Binder (Poll 4 Equality) poll showing 48% opposed to same-sex marriage in CA (47% support, 3% unsure), how many people do we need to reach and convert for marriage equality?
ANSWER: Hard to answer in voter specifics, but the short answer in either 2010 OR 2012 would be this basic formula:
Build a micro-targeted precision persuasion campaign with the goal of changing the minds of at least 5% of swing voters AND change the electorate (by turning out more “base” voters than would vote normally AND register more voters).
2008 was one of the highest turnouts in presidential history, and by motivating these younger, base voters, we can begin to make up for a highly polarized electorate that will naturally vote in either election.
However, to be clear, in ANY year, we would need a combination of both in order to win, as the polling currently tells us we do not win in EITHER 2010 OR 2012 with the current persuadable universe alone (even if we persuaded all of those that are considered truly “swing”).
1. More research (polling and focus groups) is needed to build our true universe of persuadable voters. It will need to be a highly targeted “micro targeted” campaign (like running multiple smaller grassroots campaigns). I believe we would need to build a persuadable universe in excess of 5% in order to build a universe that could change the outcome of the election.
“Swing” demographics (as determined by the may 2009 poll)
a. Non-whites under 30
b. Democrats over 65
c. Female democrats in Southern CA
d. Declined To State's (DTS's) living alone
e. People that consider themselves “moderate” or “liberal”
f. People that attend church services LESS than once a week
g. Republicans under 30 (some considered base)
2. We need to turn out “unusual voters” – people who are likely presidential only voters that would be unlikely to participate in 2010. For marriage equality, the universe of voters under 30 (who regardless of party are more supportive of marriage equality) will be critical. This would also include a combination of voter registration and turning out those who may have turned out once for Obama, but are not necessarily regular voters.
a) Democrats and Decline To State (DTS) who consider themselves “liberal”
b) Democrats and DTS under 30
c.) Voters who do not consider themselves religious
The Simon/Binder poll backs what Sarah says about micro-targeting. It indicates that this is not a partisan issue, or a liberal versus conservative issue (many self-identifying liberals oppose sames-sex marriage) - but that marriage equality is a polarizing issue equal to abortion or the death penalty, but along many different, complicated lines. And many people don't plan on changing their minds.
Even more complicated but extremely important, are the POC communities. Different messages hold different meanings for difference races and elicit various responses. Even within the API community, different parts of this community respond differently from each other. You simply cannot group them together. As for the African American community, you simply cannot approach them without talking about religion. So how you approach one voter can be completely different on how you approach another.
Micro-targeting is key to reaching people's "heart and minds."
Q: Given the amount of people we need to reach, how many doors or knocks does that represent? How many times do we need to go back and knock?
A: Can only ballpark – persuadable universe by density x 3 knocks.
On the phone, I asked Sarah for some more clarification for us laymen. She said that density referred to precincts with the highest persuadable voters within a walkable area.
So to emphasize, this is a ballpark. But in clarification of her formula, in areas where high amounts of persuadable voters are ID'ed in dense areas, they need to be approached individually through canvassing at least three times. Once these voters are ID'ed, then we'll know how many knocks are needed in total, and as a result, how many more volunteers.
Sarah reiterated that at this point in time, it can be misleading to give any specific number on voters, knocks and volunteers since once in campaign mode, numerous variables can easily change. However, other various groups have estimated 300,000 more than those who voted against Prop 8 will be needed to repeal it.
However you look at it, that's a lot of knocking. That's a lot of volunteers needed.
Q: How many volunteers is that going to take?
A: More than we could ever have will need to be a blend of volunteer and full time canvasses.
Love Honor Cherish's Blueprint, which was developed completely separate from Sarah and the Courage Campaign and in detail outlines what's needed for a 2010 campaign, calculates that 12,500 volunteers will be needed.
Q: How much time will be required per volunteer?
A: Best case, 15 – 20 hours a week for AT LEAST the last 12 weeks.
Wow! So if you're supporting a return to the ballot (no matter when), you better get prepared! You're going to be needed, and you're going to be put to work!
(You're needed even now! Check out this post on how you can get involved immediately. Help start the conversations with voters and with ID'ing them.)
Q: How will phone banking be best utilized in a repeal Prop 8 campaign?
First (in any year) – the most important task is to screen (ID) voters in the persuadable universe. This task is happening now with the grassroots equality work. To maximize the value of a grassroots persuasion, it would be most appropriate to do a paid ID sweep first and send a volunteer with personal story to those that are identified as persuadable from the ID. Also, a separate phone bank operation would need to focus on “unusual” base voters. (See above on voters.)
Q: Marriage Equality USA states that for 2010 we'll need to convert 999 voters a day, and for 2012, it will be 453. What do you think of these numbers? Given the amount of time we have left for 2010, is this plausible? What do you think is our best strategy to gain these conversions?
A: I think for the purpose of grassroots planning, this number is valid and makes sense. However, in the heat of the campaign (no matter what the year), we would essentially need to begin over again in the window of an actual campaign once things like ballot language, other items on the ballot, the position of the top of the ticket and how rigorous the campaign is, what the opposition is saying play out.
If for example, we were to go to the ballot in 2010 or 2012, the most valuable thing we can all do now is to ID the persuadable voters and provide the “story of self." No matter what a voter tells us now based on our persuasion at the door – that voter is likely to revert back to previous long held beliefs once the other side presents its information and arrives at their door. We need to be talking to them in the window that they will be making a decision. All the more reason, that no matter what the year, we need a targeted, grassroots, well executed, disciplined campaign.
Q: Given the hurdles facing us for both 2010 and 2012 - volunteers, time, money and economy - what will be more costly over all: a 2010 campaign or a 2012 campaign?
A: The main difference between 2010 and 2012 on cost is the size of the universe that a campaign will need to go after (far more voters to reach out to in a presidential year). Otherwise it’s really apples and oranges. 2010 will have a smaller universe, but money will need to be spent on vote by mail and turning out unusual voters. 2012 money will need to be spent talking to a larger pool of voters (plus insuring they vote).
Q: Keeping in mind your past campaign experiences, have you ever participated in a California initiative campaign with similar factors facing you, especially similar factors to a 2010 campaign? Did you win or lose?
A: The closest I can come to describe a similar situation was in 2005. The Governor called a special election as a springboard to his re-election. The cornerstone of that election was Prop 75 that specifically curbed the political power of state workers. Going into the campaign, the Governor had positive ratings and the polling showed that the general public did not have a high opinion of state workers (portrayed as overpaid and underworked union members that were part of an unpopular and bloated bureaucracy.) The labor community in CA was able to beat back the Governor's slate of propositions in two ways: 1) By educating voters about who the workers actually were, people like teachers, nurses and firefighters (held in very public high esteem) - by humanizing those impacted and by having them speak in their own voice, the campaign was able to come from behind and beat back all of the Governors propositions. He then went on to admit that he made a mistake in holding that election. 2) By running an extraordinary grassroots effort to turn out a high number of voters (exceeding 40 percent turnout, unheard of in a usually low special election with no candidate on the ballot). Although marriage equality is a more polarizing issue, there are lessons to learn. -- That Grassroots and turning out base voters that might not turn out naturally can help win an election. --- The Grassroots can change "hearts and minds" by putting names and faces to those who have been denied the right to marry and humanizing the issue for voters.
Marriage equality is a far more polarizing issue, but I think there is a lot to be learned.
Q: Do you think that the 1-3% difference of winning in 2012 is worth waiting until then given that the numbers are so tight?
A: There is a path to victory in each year, but we do not win in any year without the most disciplined, targeted, grassroots, professional well resourced campaign in California history. That is the real question - rather than “which year” but instead “can we put together the resources and the right campaign?”
Q: If the community chooses to go back in 2010, do you feel there's a enough time to pull off such a complex campaign?
I asked this question over the phone, and Sarah was quick to reply, "You don't want the clock to decide for you."
In other words, if it's right and we're all up for it - do it.
So, are you up for it?
Sarah Callahan will be at the Leadership Summit in San Bernardino tomorrow, July 25. At the summit, many hope a decision will be made on when to return to the ballot and what that will entail. Unite the Fight will attend and will report. Be sure to follow on Twitter for continual updates.