Epolitics.com contributor Dave Leichtman just wrote a piece for Campaigns & Elections highlighting new technologies that can help Democratic campaigns reach voters more effectively: relational organizing.
As big data has become even bigger, we’ve reached a point where national entities can now reasonably purchase the computing capacity necessary to keep accurate track of every voter, something that hasn’t been truly possible until recently. This allows campaign data teams to focus on two very important pieces of data that were too hard to track before: namely, for every voter who’s the best person in their network to contact them, and what’s the best way to do so.
Relational organizing tech takes the “peer-to-peer” idea in field organizing and layers over it the web of personal relationships that exist in the real world. The idea isn’t new, of course, as Dave notes: “Relational organizing is, reductively, just retail politics — the kind of rural water district hand-shaking my grandfather and his father did, but tracked online and brought into the era of big data”.
Different relational organizing tools take different approaches (VoterCircle accesses volunteers’ phone contact lists and matches them to a voter file, for example), but they generally seek to make large-scale voter contact more effective, in most cases by making it friend-to-friend rather than stranger-to-stranger. The idea of peer-to-peer contact isn’t partisan, but the new relational tools are mainly making their way to Democratic campaigns, in part because of funding and support from groups like Higher Ground Labs.
Like most political technologies, relational organizing tends to help win on the margins. If a candidate is down by twenty points in a tough district two weeks before Election Day, grassroots outreach of any kind probably can’t make enough of a difference on its own, unless voter turnout is incredibly low. And as always, no tool can sell a dead cat — or a candidate the voters do not want to buy.
But six months out? Relational tools should help a campaign build the supporter networks via person-to-person outreach that could yield a critical mass at the polls. And if the race is tight, they might help volunteers persuade or mobilize enough voters to push a campaign over the top even at the last minute. Expect relational tech to play big in 2020.