By Holly Robichaud and Dan Tripp
When Don Ameche, as historians and movie buffs recall, invented the telephone in 1939 in his movie role as Alexander Graham Bell, little did he realize the impact his invention would have on the world of American politics.
Phones are a multi-purpose campaign tool. They are used to raise money, organize volunteers, deliver messages, increase or decrease voter turnout, and help determine both the top issues and how a candidate is fairing in the race.
Over the past six years we have seen an ever increasing backlash against phone usage. Across the nation ‘Do Not Call' lists have been established to counter consumer anger over the telemarketing industry. Fortunately for the political campaigns, telemarketing has been exempt from most restrictions. Freedom of speech lives on for candidates.
Despite the exemption, many candidates are reluctant to use this valuable tool. All too often you hear on the campaign trail are activists saying -- “We don't do phone calls in this districts, voters do not respond to them, and people vote against candidates who call them.” That is simply hogwash. All campaigns need a comprehensive phone strategy when it comes to fundraising, GOTV, voter contact and polling.
To omit phones from your campaign plan will certainly doom it from the start. One of the worst campaign errors we encountered is when a candidate absolutely refused to do calls on a rainy Election Day when turnout was extremely low. He lost by less than 100 votes. If he had called his identified supporters, he would have won. For the record phone calls are an essential ingredient for Election Day GOTV activities. If you employ your calls correctly, they can maximize turnout by an additional 4%.
Here is a list of some phone tactics that can enhance your fundraising and chances for success:
· Identifying Voters—One of the most important tasks on a campaign is to identify supporters and turn them out on Election Day. Other than door knocking, professional calls are the most accurate way to identify voters. Your campaign plan should include a live call program to targeted voters to determine where they stand on the issues and your race. This data will be invaluable in pushing people to support your candidate and out to vote.
· Fundraising Calls—Obviously candidates need to call high-dollar donors for contributions. Only self-financing candidates are exempt from dialing for dollars. Moreover phones can enhance the rate of return for your direct mail. Place reminder calls, either live or electronic, to mail recipients, so that they will remember to send you a check.
· Electronic Calls—As the price for postage and advertising has increased, the costs for calling voters has declined. Electronic calls are the cheapest form of voter contact available.
As everyone knows they are often perceived as a nuisance. You need to use them appropriately to get results. Early in the campaign they can be far more effective, because voters are not being overwhelmed by the number of calls. As your campaign progresses, you want to craft clever messages that will be remembered. You don't want repeated calls from your candidate continuously droning on about an issue. Try to have a new voice call or a well-known official call and avoid calling during dinner hours. Like direct mail, you need to cut through the clutter to get noticed.
· Counter Electronic Calls—Many campaigns will use an electronic call to deliver an attack message. Unlike direct mail, radio and television, you can respond in minutes! And you should! Calling with a response or your own attack can nullify your opponent's message. When voters get too many calls they just ignore them all.
Town Hall Meeting Calls—In 2006 we saw the emergence of this new technology and tactic. A campaign can place an electronic call to thousands of voters simultaneously and ask them to join a conference call with the candidate. This allows voters live access to the candidate. Not only does it help get out your message, but it also helps create a personal connection between the candidate and voter.
· Grassroots Organizing—Nowadays people think that sending out an email replaces the act of calling volunteers for help. It does not. It is a nice supplement. If you want to turnout people for a rally or another activity, nothing beats a phone call. Your Field Team should create a phone tree for calling volunteers. Don't expect people to show up if you have failed to call them. Emails are easy to ignore. Calls are not.
· Polling—The most accurate way to determine the dynamics of a race is polling voters. Online polls will never replace the need for pollsters. A professional pollster will take a precise sample of the voting population and help you interpret the results, so that you can make course adjustments in your campaign plan and targeting of voters. Without polling, you are flying blind on the campaign trail.
· GOTV Calls—On Election Day it is vital to call your identified supporters to remind them to vote. This is more important than standing at the polls with a sign and waving at voters. Voting is not the number one priority for 99% of the general public, so they need to be reminded and nagged to vote.
Keep in mind that in 2008 there may be a shortage of available time with phone banks due to the Presidential race and the numerous other federal races. Be sure to hire a phone bank early for Election Day so that you are not shut out. Yes, you can also use volunteers, but they are never as reliable as a professional calling center.
Phones usage has been evolving since its invention. With caller ID, answering machines and cell phones, it is much harder to get the attention of the average consumer, but that does not exempt you from employing this instrument.
It means you need to be creative and compensate for voters whom you are not reaching through other methods by using the phones. They work.
Dan Tripp is a former South Carolina State Representative. Presently
he serves as the National Political Director
for American's for Limited Government.
Holly Robichaud has over 20 years experience in helping Republicans
get elected of office. She specializes in strategy, direct mail
fundraising, voter contact programs, and fundraising.
She can be reached at Click here to contact this Author.