This article is an excerpt from the upcoming 2020 edition of How to Use the Internet to Change the World – and Win Elections.
In just two months, the coronavirus pandemic has already upended the plans of political campaigns and advocacy organizations large and small. For example, physical distancing rules in place in countries around the world have put the kibosh on rallies and door-knocking, and even after they’re relaxed, many people may be reluctant to gather in groups or open their doors to strangers with clipboards. Meanwhile, voters have moved online, and campaigns are rushing to follow them.
Campaigns and advocacy organizations have been forced to adapt quickly in three main areas:
- Internal processes
- Field organizing
As a result, they are:
- Shifting to videoconferences and digital project-management tools instead of in-person meetings, with staff working from home.
- Training and mobilizing volunteers via online video, webinars, conference calls, emails and texts.
- Emphasizing paid digital advertising to reach voters spending more time online, whether reading websites, watching streaming video or browsing social media.
- Investing in list-building via digital advertising and organic online outreach.
- Holding online chats and virtual town halls.
- Recruiting online influencers to act on the candidate or cause’s behalf.
- Encouraging supporters to evangelize in their own social/digital circles.
- Exploring relational-organizing tools to more-formally tap supporters’ social connections on the campaign’s behalf.
- Shifting field outreach and organizing tasks to social media and mobile phones.
- Moving from in-person voter contact to virtual phone banks and peer-to-peer texting.
As the pandemic subsides and countries, states and local governments ease their restrictions, many traditional campaign activities may come back to life. Still, campaigns will likely be dealing with the fallout from coronavirus for the rest of 2020 at least. For more information, see the resources gathered below. And, be sure to consult the relevant chapters in this book as well:
- Chapter 8: Outreach strategy, recruiting & list-building
- Chapters 9, 11 & 12: Digital advertising, including social-media advertising
- Chapter 10: Social media strategy
- Chapter 11: Facebook strategy
- Chapter 13: Digital-enabled field organizing
- Chapter 14: Mobilization and GOTV
- Chapter 15: Online fundraising
Top-Level Guides & Resource Collections
- Navigating Political Campaigns & Coronavirus. A good introduction.
- Political Campaigning in the Time of Social Distancing. Downloadable guidebook.
- Organizing While Corona guide and articles.
- Campaigning During The Coronavirus. Links, tips and how-tos from the South Carolina Democratic Party.
- Nonprofits and Coronavirus. Useful resources for advocacy organizations.
- Community Building [Political Organizing] During The Coronavirus. From Indivisible.
- 4 Ways To Keep Your Fundraising Program Active During COVID.
- Digital Strategy for Political Campaigns During the Coronavirus.
- How to Adapt Your Capitol Hill Outreach Strategies During COVID-19.
- Staying Engaged With Your Advocates During A Pandemic.
- Lessons Learned From Organizing During COVID.
- How COVID-19 Could Reshape Digital Persuasion & GOTV.
- How To Connect With Audiences Sheltering In Place.
How Campaigns are Adapting
Many news stories have already looked at how campaigns are adjusting to the pandemic, and the articles below may spark some ideas. If you’re reading this piece after June of 2020, a quick Google News search should turn up more recent examples.
- Biden’s campaign rushes to blunt Trump’s digital advantage (a good overview of presidential-level digital campaigning).
- MAGA Babe, Hillary Toilet Paper and Al Gore: The Weird World of the Virtual 2020 Campaign.
- As America Stays Home, Candidates Turn To Digital Organizing Tech.
- How to Canvass During a Pandemic. “Progressive insurgents are reimagining their campaigns thanks to the coronavirus.”
- No pressing the flesh, but candidates learn to campaign under COVID-19.
- Kept home by COVID-19, U.S. politics goes virtual with digital dance parties and avatars.