The US Presidential election and the future of campaigning?

It’s the US election season, and suddenly anyone who’s watched an episode or two of the West Wing will become an expert on the best approach to win the 270 Electoral College seats needed, the opportunities presented by the Michigan Primary and the role of Super Delegates in a tight convention.

While predicting the result of the Primary and Presidential race, and while we’re at it I think we’re going to see Santorum push Romney all the way to the convention and Obama will win a second term, is a great conversation starter amongst the political engaged, it’s also a good time to start paying attention if you want to see the future of campaigning.

Why?

1. The election campaign is has a bigger budget than any other. This year President Obama is expected to fundraise over $1 billion and I’d expect the eventual Republican frontrunner won’t be far behind, which means it can develop some of the most powerful tools and employ the best and brightest staff.

2. It’s the most ‘important’ single political campaign in the world to win. The President of the United States is still the world’s most powerful elected official.

3. It’s got huge numbers of people involved. The Obama team already has over 200 staff working full-time in its head office in Chicago, a figure that is likely to increase rapidly in the next month, plus hundreds of thousands of volunteers on the ground ready to be engaged and resourced.

While I accept that election campaigning is different to campaigning to change public policy, and that the campaigns will make use of many of more traditional techniques like TV adverts, that are perhaps less available to public policy campaigns. I believe it’s still interesting to see how the tools used in previous campaigns have often tracked closely to the tools that are now common place in most campaigning organisations.

As Slate notes;

1996 saw the debut of candidate Web pages

2000 was the first time website were used for fundraising.

2004 saw Howard Dean pioneer the use of online tools (like MeetUp) to organise campaign events to link supporters together.

2008 led by the inspiring Obama campaign saw the emergence of socia media as a mass-communication tool, and the most sophisticated use of sites like my.barackobama.com which turned online interest into offline activism.

Add to that the resurgence of the concept of Community Organising fueled in part by the background of the current President but also the way that it was put to work to increase registration and turnout of previous under represented groups. (If you’re interested in learning more about the 2008 campaign I’d highly recommend that you read ‘Race of a Lifetime’ and the ‘Audacity to Win‘.)

So what are the early trends for 2012? Well the overriding one seems to be the most sophisticated use of data.

Slate suggest;

‘From a technological perspective, the 2012 campaign will look to many voters much the same as 2008 did…..this year’s looming innovations in campaign mechanics will be imperceptible to the electorate, and the engineers at Obama’s Chicago headquarters racing to complete Narwhal in time for the fall election season may be at work at one of the most important. If successful, Narwhal would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified political profile’.

While the Guardian reported this weekend;

‘At the core is a single beating heart – a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of committed and potential Obama voters. The database will allow staff and volunteers at all levels of the campaign – from the top strategists answering directly to Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina to the lowliest canvasser on the doorsteps of Ohio – to unlock knowledge about individual voters and use it to target personalised messages that they hope will mobilise voters where it counts most’

And this sophisticated use of data doesn’t seem to being the sole preserve of the Democratic Party, with Slate reporting in January about how Mitt Romney built a similar database to help him almost win the Iowa Caucus;

‘Romney’s previous Iowa campaign allowed him to stockpile voter data and develop sophisticated systems for interpreting it. It was that data and those interpretations that supported one of the riskiest strategic moves of the campaign thus far: Romney’s seemingly late decision to fight aggressively for his first-place finish in Iowa’

For more on the digital and data tactics that the campaigns are using take a look at this from the Washington Post and this from ABC News.

In the UK, we don’t have anything that comes close to the Presidential Elections. The nearest equivalent is the Mayor of London elections that are happening in May. It’s a highly personalised contest trying to reach one of the biggest single constituencies in the world, and certainly the Ken campaign is making use of some innovative tools;

1. Last week saw the launch of personalised Direct Mail which make of QR codes to invite a response.

2. The  Ken campaign has made a significant investment in using Nation Builder tools to launch ‘Your Ken’ – a community to resource and mobilise its activists which was received with acclaim when it was launched last year.

3. The heavy emphasise on the use of text and email to get the message out to potential voters across London.

I’ll be watching with interesting at how both these elections campaigns make use of new tools and tactics in the coming months, and reflecting on the opportunities they present for campaigning for social change. 

Lobbying the Lords….

A review of two excellent campaign tools focused on influencing members of the House of Lords.

Unlike their counterparts in the House of Commons, members of the House of Lords can be notoriously hard to campaign towards. There are over 800 of them, with some as regular attenders, while others who rarely turn up. Some are independent spirits, while others are still loyal to the parties that bestowed the peerage on the them.

But with the Health and Social Care Bill coming before the House of Lords later in the week, it’s been interesting to see how campaign organisations have been trying to target them. A couple of excellent tools have been launched to target Lords.

38 Degrees new 'Contact a Lord' tool

38 Degrees have developed a‘Contact a Lord’ tool with donations from members. It’s a tool that provides you, on production of your postcode and email address, with the contact details of a Lord to send a message to. I think it’s based on a similar function on the writetothem website and it’s a simple and user-friendly way of taking action, and I’m certain it’s providing a fuller inbox for Lords who aren’t traditionally used to receiving bulging postbags!

For me a couple of improvements could enhance its effectiveness in the future;

1. Be more specific and target those Lords who are likely to be wavering about how they might vote. I’ve used the system twice and ended up with former Chairmen of the Conservative Party, Lord Patten, who I’d imagine is unlikely not to vote the way that he’s being asked to. With greater political intelligence you could build a database to target the 50 or so most likely to be wavering and target them.
2. Make use of the Lords geographical loyalties. Although Lords don’t represent a geographical area, because of our ancient political system they’re all enobled to be ‘Lord of this place of that’. Often this is linked to a place that they have some link to, a former area they represented in Parliament, a place of birth, etc. It could be interesting if one production of your postcode you’d get the opportunity to message a Lord linked to where you live.

Some of the groups behind the #BlocktheBridge protests yesterday have also launched ‘Peer Pressure’ website. It provides a list of all Crossbench and Lib Dem MPs and their contact details. You’re encouraged to get in touch with them, although no tool do to this is provided, and then report back on if they’re likely to oppose the bill, using a ranking system.

Some excellent new tools have been launched to campaign towards the House of Lords

The site is trying to provide a more detailed picture of which Lords are likely to block the bill but the site doesn’t have much information yet, just 19 Lords (out of over 270) have been reported on, so it’s perhaps not reached enough people as yet. Perhaps a tie up with 38 Degrees would help with this?

Overall, both organisations are to be congratulated for developing such innovative tools to address a tricky campaigning problem. With the Lords becoming a popular target to modify bills coming from the Tory-led Coalition, I’m expecting that we’ll see more campaign tools like this in the coming year, and organisations would do well to learn from these examples.

What other campaigning towards the House of Lords has impressed you?

Holding successful events with MPs in Parliament

Conference season is upon us and many campaigners will be packing their bags to head off to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

But  as Chloe Stables notes in an excellent post about making the most of attending conference they can be ‘expensive, hectic and occasionally frustrating‘ but other options for engaging with MPs do exist.

Back in March, I was involved in organising an event to mark World Water Day, which at the time one colleague musedwas a better use of resources that organising an fringe meeting at Party Conference.

A modest objective of getting 12-15 MPs along was set but in the end we got over 40 MPs came to join in, a great success and far more than we would have got attending a fringe event at conference.

David Burrowes MP at the event

One of the 40 MPs who attended the event

The idea was simple. Invite MPs to join us on and walk 100m with a jerry can on a course we’d set up in Victoria Tower Gardens, it was a symbolic act to remember the fact that many people have to walk up to 6km to get access to something we expect to get from our taps, and we hoped that it would help to build links with Parliamentarians who could act as champions for the issue in the coming year.

You can read more about the event here, but it got me thinking about what some of the elements that made the event a success.

Perhaps they’re nothing new but I wanted to share them to see what insight others have about what works when looking to engage MPs in events in Parliament.

1. Provide a photo opportunity – It’s a cliché but the offer of a photo and a pre-prepared press release undoubtedly encouraged some MPs to join us. We set up a water pump and promised to get the release to them within 3 hours. It was nice to use this as a way of helping the MP demonstrate the interest they had in the issue.

2. Targeted the few not the many – The decision was taken early in the planning not to actively invite all MPs, but to identify and approach a smaller number of influential MPs on the topic, for example those on key select committees or those who’d shown an interest in the issue previously. We hoped that our invitation was more likely to get noticed, and we already had a relationship with some which made it easier to follow up with.

3. Followed up via Twitter – Ahead of the event, we got in touch with those MPs who used twitter to remind them to come down. At least one mentioned that this had made the difference about them attending or not.

4. Used our supporters – We invited our supporters who lived in the constituencies of MPs we had an interest in to attend, but had realistic expectations about the number who’d be able to join us on a Tuesday. We also encouraged them to get in touch and invite their MP along anyhow. Again, a number of MPs mentioned that this was one of the reasons they joined us.

5. Made the most of our contacts – We found that amongst an extended group of colleagues had a number had contact with friends who worked for MPs or who could raise the profile of the event inside Parliament. A few well placed e-mails and calls from them certainly helped to increase the numbers attending. A reminder that sometimes it’s useful to use your personal contacts.

6. Kept the event going for two hours – Allowing MPs a longer window of time to come along seemed to yield dividends in reducing the number of MPs who simply couldn’t join us because of diary clashes.

What successful events have you organised with MPs? Is Conference a useful forum to engage with MPs? What have you found works and what hasn’t?
Some of this post originally appeared on the NCVO Campaigning Forum.

Five for Friday 24th June….

It’s Friday, so here are five great articles I’ve read in the last few weeks that are worth reading in your lunch break…..

1. Research from the US suggested that ‘LinkedIn Is An Untapped Treasure Trove For Political Campaigns‘ because it draws older, more educated citizens–voters who are far more reliable when it come to casting ballots than those on Facebook. (h/t @rechord)

2. The Guardian reports on a new report from the Constitution Unit that suggests most decisions in the government are reached through informal channels rather than formal coalition machinery. Alison Goldsworthy has some useful advice on the NCVO Forum about influencing the coalition.

3. Casper ter Kuile points to a great article on the New Organising Institute that reminds us of ‘What We Can’t Teach: Courage and Commitment in Campaigns‘.

4. A new e-book reviews the last 10 years of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. (h/t @sullyserena)

5. Charles Secrett causes a stir by arguing that ‘Environmental activism needs its own revolution to regain its teeth‘ promoting a strong rebuttal from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and a further response from Secrett. My own thoughts on the original article are here.

What else have you read that you’d add?

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Useful insight from BBC4 series ‘The Secret World of Whitehall’

I’ve posted a few thoughts for campaigners on the excellent BBC4 series ‘The Secret World of Whitehall’ over on the NCVO Campaign and Influence Forum.

The three-part series, which finishes on Wednesday night, has been a revealing look at some of the key departments at the heart of Government over recent decades, and I think it has some really useful insight for those looking to influence government.

If you’ve been watching the series do share your thoughts over on the Forum. If you haven’t watched it so far I’d encourage to catch up on iPlayer.

Three ways campaigners could keep (some) MPs happy

Brian Lamb has written two excellent blog posts in the last week  (on the NCVO site and on Third Sector), which both mention an evidence session of the Public Administration Select Committee in late January where a small number of MPs spent a considerable amount of time grilling representatives from leading charities about campaigning.

So what can we learn from the exchanges about which tactic campaigners should avoid if they want to keep (some) MPs happy?

In the same way that a single swallow doesn’t make for summer, we need to be careful to assume that the comments of a few MPs reveal how the majority of Parliamentarians view charity campaigning, but the transcript is worth a read as it reveals some bad campaigning practice that’d campaigners would do well to avoid if they’re to keep some MPs on side;

Lesson 1 – Sending the wrong person to do the lobbying
Some of the MPs objected to no longer being lobbied by Chief Executives but instead ‘by parliamentary campaigns officers who, in most cases, have absolutely nothing of interest to tell me‘. Clearly not all MPs feel this way (and MPs aren’t obliged to meet with Parliamentary Officers!) but does hierarchy matter more when you’re working with Conservative MPs? I’ve heard of one government department where the Minister will only meet with Chief Exec’s, and if  this is a trend are CEOs making enough space in their diaries to engage in lobbying?

Lesson 2 – The personal touch counts
Others objected to the sending of ‘impersonal e-mails and sending letters on behalf of their Chief Executives with electronic signatures‘. With one MP arguing ‘I cannot recall ever sending a letter with an electronic signature to any of my constituents‘. Seems to be common sense to me and an easy mistake to avoid.

Lesson 3 – Don’t overwhelm them with automated emails
This issue seems to be Robert Halforn MP bugbear (he also wrote about it here) and it’s something that campaigners have heard before (remember the incident with Dominic Raab MP last summer), but the comment shows the sheer number of messages that MPs appear to be receiving ‘ that at least 20% of the 150 to 200 e-mails a day I get nowadays are from charities, and they’re not personal e-mails-they’re ones produced when people put their name and a postcode on their charity’s computer and you get an automated e-mail‘. Does this just show it’s an effective tactic or is it a tactic which is fast loosing its impact? If it’s the latter then it feels to me that the sector needs to start thinking and innovating about new ways of generating mass actions.

Aside from the highlighting of less effective campaign tactics, the exchange focused on the amount of money that charities spend on advertising and campaigning. Lots has been written about this, see Sir Stephen Bubb’s blog and Third Sector on this, but clearly it’s an issue that some who have a less favourable view of charity campaigning will continue to go on about.

Perhaps one solution would be to learn from organisations, like 38 degrees, who do direct fundraising to pay for campaign ads, perhaps it’d be worth others considering this to show that those who’ve given money are happy for it to be used in this way. That way, it’d be very easy for a charity to say that its donors were very clear about what the money would be used for.

As an aside, you could argue that the money that Shelter spent on the advert near Parliament was well spent because it’s clearly been remembered by Politicians!

APPGs and Charities – What the data shows

The APPG on Smoking and Health meeting - from http://www.ash.org.uk

The Guardian DataBlog has today made available information on all the contributions made to support the work of All Party Parliamentary Groups in the current Parliament. They found that 283 of the 450 groups received some kind of financial support from outside interests.

The groups, often know as APPGs for short, are made up of MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a particular interest in a subject or country and hold meetings related to their shared interest.

Charities have long made use of APPGs as a way of raising awareness within Parliament and supporting those MPs and Lords who have an interest in a particular issue to raise questions with Government ministers and get involved in policy discussions.

Some quick sorting of the data shows the extent of current involvement;

Money

  • Together 20 charities contribute £97,763 to the costs of running 9 All Party Groups, with the Great Lakes Region of Africa APPG receiving the most (£27,500) and the Dementia APPG the least (£1866).
  • The International Planned Parenthood Federation is the biggest contributor giving £12,356 to the Population, Development and Reproductive Health APPG and £5000 to the HIV/AIDS APPG.
  • Christian Aid is the only other NGO which gives to more than one group,  contributing to both the Great Lakes Group (£6000) and Agriculture and Food for Development Group (£3000), and development NGOs are by far the most generous providing just under £78,000 in total.
  • The average contribution to an APPG is just under £5000.
  • The use for most of the contributions is not specified, but 5 charities provide funding for an administrator while others are down as covering the cost of printing a report or costs of a trip for members of the APPG.

Support

  • 64 Charities provide secretarial support to a APPG. Almost all of the time this is support a group that is linked to the organisations purposes, for example the National Autism Society provides support for the Autism APPG, the Tibet Society to the Tibet APPG, etc.
  • Results UK is the only NGO that provides secretarial support to more than one APPG providing it to the Global Education for All, Microfiance and TB APPGs.
  • 5 APPGs report that charities have helped to support the cost of receptions or other events.

No doubt some will suggest that this isn’t how charities should be using their money, but I personally think it provides good value.

These groups have long been used as way of engaging and influencing busy MPs. Equally when you consider the bigger picture, that £1.6 million is spent on APPGs in total (so the charitable sector for 6% of the total) and the beer and wine industry can contribute £52,000 to the Beer group, I believe these figures are fairly modest.

What do you think? Are supporting an APPG a good or bad use of money?

In the interests of transparency, you can give the dataset that I’ve used adapted from the Guardian’s here. I’m happy to make amendments if notified of a mistake or inaccuracy (I’m human so expect that I’ve made a mistake or two). I have not included contributions made by Charitable Trusts or Foundations, or included Trade Associations which may in some instances be classed as charities.