Monday, May 06, 2019

Where Did the Mike Gravel Campaign Come From?

Guest post by Duncan Gammie

Mike Gravel had been retired for a number of years, when seemingly out of nowhere he decided to run for President in 2020 under the Democratic Party.  How did the Senator decide he needed to run for President one more time? Two teenagers had heard of the Senator and his history - in particular his history-making moment as the Senator from Alaska who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record when their publication was in doubt - and wondered why Gravel had not become more of a hero among young people and the left in general. In particular, Gravel's performance during the 2008 Democratic debates was surprisingly strong and impactful, but at the time many of his positions felt too fringe and radical. That is no longer the case today, say the two teens who recruited him to run for President, and the rules of joining the Democratic debate have changed as well. 
"Shut Up, Centrist" - photo by Eric Kelly,

In the 2020 campaign for President, Mike Gravel (and any other candidate) has to collect donations from at least sixty-five thousand individual donors (although this still means that sixty-five thousand individuals could donate one dollar and he would make it to the Democratic debate stage, the candidate's average donations exceed one dollar, and many of those who donate decide to donate again later, defying skeptics who write him off as a protest candidate). The 88-year-old Gravel has leapt into the work of campaigning with an alacrity that is both surprising and admirable for someone his age, and he has proven to be a formidable political player in the meme era. Donations to his campaign (grassroots donations being a strong indication of a candidate's viability) have continued to rise with each passing day, despite a general media blackout (and a shocking refusal to even list his name in some polls) and minimal campaign expenditures, including advertising. The former Senator has not let any obstacle break his stride, however, and made a splash this past 4/20 (a green holiday) by selling "Pentagon Rolling Papers" on the campaign website, with the caveat that each sale counted as a donation (in other words, to give cash to the campaign is to donate as well). The gambit worked, with strong donations pouring in to the campaign during this period. Gravel hopes to make it to the debate stage and force his signature issues, in particular in the area of foreign policy, and believes that if people continue to donate in similar numbers then he has a strong chance.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

How Do People Really Feel about Email?

For a long time, I’ve heard people criticize the U.S. Postal Service. I’ve heard so much of that, I began to wonder if there was some kind of universal hatred for the post office among Americans. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that USPS has been ranked the fourth most trusted company (public or private) overall, that Americans rank it better in privacy than any other government entity, and the highest overall of 13 major government agencies. People like the post office! 

I bring that story up because it illustrates that sometimes the facts don’t bear out what everyone thinks is true. And if you ask most people, they’ll probably say that digital campaigns—particularly mass emails—“don’t work” and are irritating, invasive, spammy, etc. Of course, they do work: they raise money, build awareness of candidates, and even help build volunteer bases. But what do we know about how people really feel about email campaign messaging? 

The truth is that while those of us who work in digital campaign media think we know what works, there’s not a ton of research. Here are some safe, if not always comprehensive, conclusions we can make:

First, some people are under the impression that emails soliciting donations are illegal. This is because there are protections against businesses sending emails or text messages to potential customers, unless those recipients first give the senders permission to do that. Similarly, there are laws protecting people from unsolicited telemarketing calls, particularly from auto-dialing systems and auto-texting. Laws like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the CAN-SPAM Act prohibit many different texting, calling, and email spam practices. 

But campaign emails don’t count. The cynical explanation for that is the politicians who made the laws were sure to exempt themselves. The more legalistic explanation is that the emails and texts we receive from a campaign are “personalized” and sent by individuals working for political campaigns, not commercial enterprises. Still, some people, particularly those who may not be fully assimilated into digital culture, probably believe that political emails are against the law. They’re not, but that doesn’t mean people have to like them. 

Second, people don’t like getting bombarded with new information and then being asked for money. Here’s an interesting anecdote: Some researchers from Florida State University last December found the following:
  • personal appeals to the donor make them want to donate, while 
  • organization-related appeals (explaining why the donation is important) determine how much people give, but 
  • don’t do personal appeals and organizational pitches in the same email or, the research suggests, you might end up getting nothing! 

Of course, we often do both at the same time, and you can tweak emails to make the reader feel less overwhelmed with information. But this is another example of us not “knowing” what really works all the time. 

Third, shockingly enough, people don’t like getting several condescending emails per day, and the DCCC has risked poisoning the email well with the approach it took starting in 2014, including “incessant messages asking for donations,” “wild shifts in tone from email to email” with “highly questionable claims.” The strategy raised “enormous quantities of money for the DCCC and its candidates” but "did little to boost Democratic candidates, and the emails themselves triggered widespread backlash . . ."

Michael Whitney, who had done digital fundraising for Bernie Sanders, called the DCCC approach a “wildly deceptive, unrelenting approach that treats supporters like garbage.” It probably drove down overall voter engagement. 

Fourth, timing and subject matter are another potential source of bad feelings. Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono’s star has been rising, but just recently someone on her campaign staff made a bad decision and sent out an ask in response to the allegations leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh--while his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, was giving testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Hirono had to apologize, which is always a buzz-kill.

So basically, there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong, be misinterpreted, or badly exploited in email campaigns. How much that actually turns people off is anybody’s guess. What I know from experience, though, is how to consciously and proactively avoid problems. 

  1. Be selective about your urgency. Don’t be the Boy (or whomever) Who Cried Wolf
  2. Don’t apologize or put yourself in a position where you wonder whether you should apologize. I’m referring to the email that says “I’m sorry to be sending out a fifth email this week, but … “ If you are wondering whether you should say that, it means you shouldn’t be sending the email. 
  3. Make it personal, but don’t insult people’s intelligence. As much hype has surrounded Hillary Clinton’s “Onward Together” campaign, people know she’s not really talking to them. But with good data driven by a good email append service, even something as simple as a zip code lets you do things like send information about local events or focus on issues you know are affecting a neighborhood or county.
  4. Keep your lists constantly updated for accuracy. One source of dissatisfaction with email campaigning is people getting emails from candidates they would probably not support. You should supplement your lists with Accurate Append, which gives you more points of contact, and can be supplemented with demographic data to give you even more information about a recipient.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Improving Contact Rates for Voter Outreach

Big money rules in politics because so many political campaigns are oriented towards mail and television contact strategies. Very, very expensive!

If your campaign has the grassroots support to build a volunteer field community, however, everything changes. Instead of costly mail and TV with little feedback on how voters are reacting to your message, you can unleash volunteers via texting, door knocking, and phone banks. You can start to predict exactly how you'll win, and whether you're on track to do so. 

A surprising number of campaigns go along without the calculations and plan to reach a win number. Wellstone offers instructions and a calculator that will help you, with a little election history research, determine how many voters you will need to identify to win. I've used this tools on races where we needed to ID 2,500 voters, and where it's 1 million. 

Before turning this grassroots field team loose, be sure your data strategy matches the enthusiasm. You can use phone, data, and email appends from my client Accurate Append to ensure you know which of your numbers are landlines vs. textable mobile phones, and to add numbers and emails to your list. Create target lists based on demographics both from a voter file and from purchased enrichments. You'll also target based on turnout history and location in precincts that have heavily favored a candidate or issue like yours in the past. 

A modern grassroots campaign should have three main contact strategies: 
Wellstone comes in handy again in determining which methods will work best, and how many volunteer hours you'll need to reach your goals for phones and doors. It matters a lot whether in your targeting you only need to talk to voters very likely to support your candidate or issue, or whether your volunteers are going to need to convince them. If your data is solid, your targeting is solid, and you've picked the right calling method to reach the most voters effectively, you'll have much better chances of winning your grassroots campaign! Make a plan. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Activating Prospect Lists with Surveys

Reaching prospects by phone, email, and mail is particularly challenging when the outreach is cold. In my practice, clients are typically seeking outsized results for a digital-first program early in their voter outreach cycle. Here in California, voter files come with email addresses - in other jurisdictions, you might use an email append to fill the gaps. In the case of any voter file, I like to use email verification and append with Accurate Append to get the best quality and coverage (verification is about 1 cent per email and should always precede a send to any list of unknown quality in order to avoid inbox penalties from email service providers).

Whether it's a voter list, less-engaged email subscribers who you're trying to reactivate, or a list of customers who haven't purchased in a while, a simple 2-3 question survey will cut down on complaints and increase responsiveness. became a first-step in voter outreach.
If you're engaging with prospects, be sure to included at the top of your email a description of why you're reaching out (i.e., "You're receiving this email because you are a San Francisco voter") and an easy way to opt out - either by including the unsubscribe link right there at the top, or mentioning that it can be found in the footer of the email. You'll also want to have compelling followup content - both in email autoresponses and one landing pages - for those who complete the survey. Depending on your choice of survey pages (we typically use Action Network or 123 Contact Forms), you'll be able to specify a path for your survey takers based on response. 

Surveys aren't just for reactvation - we often use them to tailor a custom email sequence to new subscribers, or as a soft ask before a fundraising pitch. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sailing the San Juan Islands - I'm Going Ashore!

Sailing the San Juan Islands out of Anacortes is a joy on and off the water. First, when you make the trip up from Seattle, you’ll want to stop and check out the tidal action at Deception Pass. Park near the bridge and you’ll have a great view of the straight’s rushing waters.

At Anacortes, you’ll want to sail with Windworks Sailing & Powerboating, which offers rentals and sailing lessons. If you need to grab any last-minute gear, there’s a hardware store and a grocery across the street.

You’ll want to take at least a few days to explore the islands. While only a fraction of the 450 islands and reefs that make up the San Juans are inhabited, there’s plenty of action whether you want to explore a cute downtown or whale-watch on a deserted beach. Stuart Island is a must, with its Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor. For fine dining, head inland to Duck Soup restaurant in one of the two Friday Harbor taxis. There’s also plenty of fine surf and turf restaurants in Roche Harbor.

On our last visit to the San Juans, we sailed first into Friday, where we took a couple hours to explore the fantastic Westcott Bay Sculpture Park. You might even run into a deer or two sampling the vegetation in the tranquil park. We then sailed around to the Roche Harbor side of the island, where we rented electric bikes to explore the island - including its former military sites. If you rent an electric bike or scooter, give yourselves plenty of time - you can make it all the way to Friday in short time, but to really explore you will want half a day. Just don’t be like me and use too much of your juice or you’ll find out how steep some of the hills really are. Also, be sure to spot the island’s lone camel, a guest on a llama ranch.

Spencer Spit State Park is a great place to tie up for an onboard barbecue. Take your shore boat down to the beach and check out the historical sites, small streams, and abundant driftwood. The brackish water at the neck of the spit and large Lopez Island harbors abundant life in the form of hermit crabs. Stare a while and they become as plentiful as the colorful sand.

Sucia Island is your must-stop for exploring nature in the San Juans. The lightly inhabited island has ample camping as well as tie-offs for your boat before you head to shore. You can hike the perimeter of the island and it boasts 10 miles of trails. Watch out for joggers coming down the narrow dirt trails!

On our trip, Blakely Island Marina was the last stop - the marina is surrounded by inaccessible private land, but we spotted deer on the neighbor’s lawn, and fantastic views. It also has pay showers, which you may be craving after a couple days sailing. The small marina’s draw is a little tight for bigger boats, so check the tides before you pull in to save yourself some heartburn.

The San Juans are a must for adventurous travelers, and whether you need a skipper, a sailboat or powerboat rental, lessons, or a place to store your boat, Windworks can do you right. Our host for a week-long trip through the San Juans (just about right for exploring, a little long if you’re not into sparse living) has brokered two boats through Windworks and charters them out of the Windworks slips when he’s not sailing himself.

Fair winds and good weather!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sailing in Beautiful Seattle

Seattle offers unparalleled beauty while overflowing with all of the amenities anyone could from a major city. It is the ultimate sailing destination and the crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest.

With a population of more than 600,000 people spread out over 142 square miles, there is truly something for everyone. From the famed Space Needle to the Seattle Great Wheel, a ferris wheel right along the waterfront, Seattle offers attractions that rival cities many times its size.

But the best way to step back and look at all that the city has to offer is to sail Seattle.

Before setting sail, it’s critical that everyone eats a good breakfast, and there are no shortage of amazing restaurants competing to serve the most important meal of the day.

For those staying around Capitol Hill, Barjot offers simple breakfasts made from scratch including delicious crepes and an avocado toast that comes highly recommended. For those looking for something a little more unusual, Bang Bang Cafe offers a New Mexican breakfast featuring hatch green chile flown in all the way from New Mexico for an authentic treat.

With hunger averted for the next few hours and jackets prepped for the cold sea air, it’s time for the sailing adventure to begin. For novice sailors and those still developing their sea legs, setting sail can be as easy as booking one of the numerous Seattle sailing tours, these typically cost around $50.

But for most people such a short tour will provide nothing more than a tease of the beauty and serenity offered by sailing around the coasts and waterways of Seattle in a private boat. For those invested in exploring everything that The Emerald City has to offer, Windworks Sailing provides lessons for everyone from novices to veterans looking to master sailing and also has boats available to charter to wherever beckons.

Every type of sailor will find a destination that appeals to them when sailing in Seattle and around the the city.

Some top spots include:

Poulsbo - Poulsbo is a city on Liberty Bay in Kitsap County, Washington, United States. It is the fourth largest city in Kitsap County. The population was 9,200 at the 2010 census. As a reminder of the city's early Scandinavian immigrants, downtown Poulsbo maintains a Scandinavian theme and is a popular regional tourist destination.

Elliot Bay Marina - With picturesque views of the Seattle Skyline and the Olympic Mountains, Elliott Bay Marina offers a relaxing place to moor. Enjoy two restaurants, repair facilities, 24-hour security, fuel dock, convenience store, year round events, and friendly customer service from our marina staff.

Shilshole Bay Marina - On its shores lie Discovery Park, the Lawton Wood section of the Magnolia neighborhood, the neighborhood of Ballard, and Golden Gardens Park.

Eagle Harbor - Eagle Harbor Marina is located on beautiful Bainbridge Island directly across the harbor from Winslow and the state ferry docks. The marina enjoys a spectacular view of the entire harbor along with easy boating access to central Puget Sound.

Port Madison - A deep water bay located on the west shore of Puget Sound in western Washington. It is bounded on the north by Indianola, on the west by Suquamish, and on the south by Bainbridge Island.

Port of Edmonds - The Port of Edmonds boat marina was created in 1962. It provides the only public boating access in the highly populated 30-mile stretch between Seattle's Shilshole Bay and the Port of Everett.

Suquamish - Located within the Port Madison Indian Reservation, it is the burial site of Chief Seattle and the site of the Suquamish tribe winter longhouse known as Old Man House.

Blake Island - Blake Island Marine State Park is a 475-acre marine camping park with five miles of saltwater beach shoreline providing magnificent views of the Olympic Mountains and the Seattle skyline. The park is only accessible by tour boat or private boat.

Bell St. Pier - The Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal anchors an 11-acre complex along Seattle’s downtown waterfront. This vibrant, multi-use property is home to Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises, which offer weekly sailings to Alaska.

Port of Kingston - The Port of Kingston was established by the state legislature in 1919 as one of the original Mosquito Fleet landing sites. The port is located on Apple Tree Cove where the Carpenter Creek Estuary flows into Puget Sound.

After a long day at sea, a delicious dinner is a necessity, and Seattle’s fine dining options are sure to delight even the most demanding diner.

Some of the city’s top-rated restaurants include the Metropolitan Grill, Andaluca, Canlis Restaurant, and Six Seven Restuarant & Lounge.

For those on a budget, Seattle offers countless tasty choices that won’t destroy the vacation budget. While there are affordable restaurants throughout the city, many of the most popular options are located inside of the Pike Place Market.

There is no place in the world quite like the Pike Place Market and it is an important stop for anyone visiting Seattle. While its unique affordable restaurants including The Crumpet Shop, Pike Place Chowder and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese are well worth the visit, it is the entire community that has built up around its farmers market, shops and restaurants that make it such a worthwhile destination.

Monday, February 27, 2017

5 ways to use voter contact data in campaigns

Guest post by Jeff Swift, author of Digital Community Organizing

Securing relevant voter file data is one of the first steps for any 21st century campaign. You’ve got to know where the registered voters live so you can plan house parties, canvassing, and GOTV efforts.

But your data efforts can’t end there. Contact information can be the most invaluable asset a campaign has, and voter file data is often out of date or irrelevant — how many voter lists still show the number for a home phone that was disconnected 8 years ago?

Whether you’re running a small municipal race or a full statewide one, it’s worth the effort to append accurate phone and email data to your voter file. Here are 5 ways to use voter contact data to change the course of close political races:

  1. Find out how many voters are already on your email list.
  2. Discover pockets of email list subscribers in neighborhoods you didn’t realize had any supporters.
  3. Send an email to all registered Democrats in a certain neighborhood to let them know about an upcoming event.
  4. Update your voter file phone records to get accurate contact numbers, often including mobile numbers.
  5. Build their own phone banks — and SMS texting banks — for voter outreach, fundraising, and GOTV.

There’s no reason the big high-dollar political campaigns should be the only ones with robust voter contact programs. The data is out there, and is usually quite affordable from services such as Accurate Append's data append. The cost is almost always worth it, particularly when you consider how much more effective your campaign will be when you have accurate contact information for all the people in your voter file.