Volunteers are more important than social media in Presidential elections

Please see the end of this blog for an update nine months later.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersLast night, the public radio show Marketplace here in the USA did an excellent story about the vital role volunteers play in a successful Presidential campaign. Social media is great, but the reality is that it’s old-fashioned volunteer engagement – people calling neighbors to get out the vote, driving neighbors to the polls, etc. – that wins elections. The story is available for free online, and if you are outside the USA and can’t access it, just download Hotspot Shield – you’ll be able to using that.

My favorite points from the article:

“It takes $670,000 dollars in ad buys in a general election to get the same number of estimated votes as you would by opening a field office which is about $21,000 dollars to maintain throughout an election season.” — Joshua Darr, assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University, quoted in the article.

“Donald Trump’s performance in Iowa has widely been blamed on his lack of volunteer organizing. ”

“Networks of lawn-trodding volunteers aren’t something you can just whip up overnight, and the people who build these networks are not a dime a dozen.”

I’m THRILLED with this story. It touches on so many things I promote in my work: that highly-skilled managers of volunteers, fully supported and funded, are required for effective volunteer engagement, that volunteers are not free, and that, sometimes, volunteers are the BEST people to do a task.

For the record, I knew President Obama was going to win re-election, despite what the polls were saying, because his campaign was getting new volunteers, and keeping volunteers, all over the country, right up to election day, while Romney’s campaign was closing offices many weeks before. And when I volunteer for political campaigns, I always rewrite the script I’m given, so that the first thing I always say is, “Hi, I’m Jayne Cravens, and I’m a volunteer with the such-and-such campaign,” because I know the person on the other end is much more likely to listen to me knowing I’m a volunteer, not a paid staffer.

And note: volunteer engagement might be cheaper than national news spots, but it still costs money. I know a lot of managers of volunteers that would love $21,000 for their volunteer engagement… and with that said, be sure to sign this petition at Change.org that calls on Congress to provide funding for the effective management of the volunteers it is requiring public lands, including National Forests, to involve.

vvbooklittleSuch a shame people managing presidential campaigns, senate campaigns, congressional campaigns, grassroots campaigns – whatever the campaign – aren’t buying The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook in bulk! Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.

— end original blog —

November 28, 2016 update:

I was wrong. This election was not won by volunteers nor by volunteer management. As my November 28 blog details, social media DID win this election. It proved an ideal vehicle for promoting misinformation. As I noted in my last blog, BuzzFeed reported that fake news stories about the USA Presidential election this year generated more engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets COMBINED – that included major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News, and on and on. And the majority of these fake news stories did NOT come from any campaign operatives; rather, they came from a man in Los Angeles who originally built fake news sites to as a way to expose the extreme right, a plan that most certainly did NOT work. And these fake stories, most of which promoted Trump as a candidate, were shared by millions of people via social media – people who believed them, and most of whom never signed up to be an official Trump campaign volunteer. See my November 28 blog for more details. A blog in December offers even more details on how volunteers were engaged, officially and unofficially, in this campaign, and how a well-managed, vast army of volunteers did NOT win this election.

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