GOP Unprecedented Opportunities to Reach Voters & Donors
This week, now that I’m back from holiday, I will be writing about the unprecedented opportunities that the GOP has to reach out to voters, create an effective brand, generate deserved voter loyalty, and raise both funds and awareness in this pre-campaign cycle season. At perhaps no other time in history have so many tools be available to Republicans to educate the populace and engage them in the political process. This year could be pretty exciting!
In the 2008 election cycle, Team Obama rolled out a publicity machine the likes of which America had never seen. Massive, cross coordinated events at Universities, labor union headquarters, and minority and fringe group rallies were coupled with an incredibly internet savvy marketing campaign that both engaged the audience and compelled them to become a part of the bigger event that was Team Obama. The Republicans, in comparison, appeared disorganized, outdated, and slow.
Despite Team Obama’s overwhelming success during the campaign, to reach an audience happy to support him emotionally and financially, Republicans failed to follow his lead. For some politicians, this refusal stemmed from a real lack of understanding of the technological advances that would get the message to the masses. Some politicians reveled in their internet ignorance in the same way that some brag about not owning a TV, a sort of snobbery that comes from a rejection of the common place. Others were fearful that adopting Team Obama’s working strategies would make them appear to be followers rather than leaders at a time when the media decried a lack of leadership in the GOP candidate roster. But no matter the reason, Republican’s failed to reach a populace who largely make their decisions based on internet information and electronic connections.
By the mid-term elections, the rally cry for Republican politicians was “we have to reach the people,” yet for many entrenched politicians, the sentiment was not followed by appropriate actions. This caused many Republican voters, desperate for news and eager to interact with politicians, to turn to the Tea Party. Instead of spending their dollars to the RNC, they donated to individual candidates and state level Republican organizations. Instead of voting the party ticket, they supported those conservative and libertarian politicians that were most accessible. And while then RNC head Michael Steele claimed responsibility for the success of Republicans in the House and Senate, the fact is, those politicians who embraced technology, social media, and voter interaction and rejected many of the fund raising and voter awareness events that worked in the past, were the winners.
Politics is a game of two halves. A successful politician must generate voter loyalty and raise cash. Often in order to do one, he or she must be able to effectively do the other. While high dollar political donors are still (and will probably always be) the foundation of an effective campaign, the 2008 election proved that the small dollar donor is an essential key to winning votes and offices. In an economy that necessitates politicians running on a platform of fiscal control, the justification for old fashioned fund raising events in which the RNC spent $2 million in order to take in $3 million from a handful of donors, is gone.
In the 2008 campaign 47% of all campaign contributions to Obama came from private donors who donated less than $200. In fact, the average donation was $87. By contrast, only 26% of McCain supporters donated less that $200. Obama, by reaching out to potential voters through his extensive internet machine was able to generate millions of dollars quickly through “regular people” contributions of small amounts. During several fiscal quarters, Obama generated $60 million more than McCain, by taping into this ground level, small donor, network.
Republicans must build a similar ground level network. Not in July of 2012, but right now! Today’s voter refuses to be an after thought, a resource to tap when campaign time rolls around and politicians want to generate money. Many Tea Party voters want to come back to the Republican brand, but only if the brand stays true to the values and platforms upon which it was founded. This is a wonderful time to engage Tea Party groups and bring these voters back into the fold.
But in order to engage and retain the loyalty of today’s voters, Republican organizations and politicians must understand, voters want to have the same internet access to “their” politicians that they enjoy from other news sources. That means daily or at very least weekly updates as to the activities, successes and failures, of their representatives. Voters want to be a part of the process. The Tea Party gave voters that access. The Republican party must do no less.
Politicians have a really unique opportunity to embrace the ideas that so invigorated the Obama campaign, but that Obama himself failed to deliver upon. Republican leadership must understand that the idea of political transparency resonated with voters and they now demand that transparency from their elected officials. Politicians engaging in “political double speak” when questioned or avoiding their constituents until the next election cycle is no longer acceptable. People have lost faith in their mainstream politicians because of the secrecy and what is seen by many as a private club rather than a job.
One of the most fundamental changes that the GOP can make to instill faith and rebuild trust within the core constituency is to provide completely transparent voting records for all Republican politicians. Individual politicians and the State Republican Party must provide daily updates as to the bills being debated, proposed, and voted upon. With the vast numbers of volunteers eager to assist in creating or updating websites dedicated to transparency, adding this essential ingredient is a very easy and effective way of both keeping the public engaged and keeping politicians on the right road.
Voters feel completely helpless when it comes time to vote because they don’t have enough information about candidates to make an informed decision. They are therefore left to choose, especially in primaries, based on limited information and PR spins. As Republicans, we all want to be passionate about those who we elect to represent us. But we are robbed of that ability to connect and really support because we have no real information. Providing that connection, that daily update, that proof that our representatives are doing exactly what they promised, provides voters with the information that they need and fosters a real sense of both commitment and involvement.
Those committed, involved voters become loyal voters, not only to the politician but also to the Republican brand. They volunteer, they talk to family and friends, they put signs in their yards and bumper stickers on their cars, and they contribute financially.
On Tuesday we will look at methods effective in engaging voters. Using both modern technology, apps, viral videos, social media, updated web sites, and interactive internet “friends” politicians and political organizations can create a loyal, informed, and involved “army” of voters and donors.