Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hating the phone

People hate political phone calls, especially in a competitive environment. The two hours that political calling might in an extreme case take out of their lives in any single election season is too big a price to pay for self-government. Watch the season opener of 24? Sure. Take thirty 4-minute phone calls? What an outrage!

People will tell you they don't like your call because they might be on the line when a call comes in to RSVP for a child's birthday party, but that's really just a lame excuse. Political calls seldom last more than a few minutes, and the very same people are often more than willing to give you down the road for calling them, and it can take a while to get all their frustrations off their chest.

Still, the truth is that people hate political calling. There is no doubt whatsoever that some voters will go to the polls for a spite vote against whoever's campaign called them the most. They will of course blame a campaign's allies (SEIU, OFA, DNC for Coakley; RNC and a host of dressed up health insurance companies for Brown), who can't legally coordinate their calling.

Campaigns need to figure out:

  • how to eliminate duplication of calls - autodialers don't yet work any better for political calls than they do for selling timeshares
  • when to stop calling because they've gone past even diminishing returns to the point at which they're actively alienating supporters
  • how to bypass the phone altogether for channels that people will accept - no, mass media ads are not the answer; they're only a little better
Research needs to be done on different phoning strategies, but that requires a much more sophisticated operation than what now exists on the Democratic side. We need to pick well-modelled bellwether precincts and treat them differently to see which strategy gets the best results in turnout and margin of victory.

I've long thought that we need to push our organizing back down to the street level, back to old methods that rely on delivering the message through neighbors. It's a lot harder to tell someone you know to go to hell (well, not for one of my neighbors) than some stranger on the phone.

In the end, though, the phones and the saturation of media ads worked. We don't know here just before 7:00 p.m. whether they worked to increase either candidate's share of the vote, but we already know that they drove turnout to huge levels for a special election with only one race on the ballot on a snowy January day.

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