It’s a real pleasure to read so many interesting essays on Ground Wars—books are meant to be used, and the discussions hosted here on Mobilizing Ideas show some of the many ways in which I hope the argument and research I’ve presented in my book will be put to use in different contexts.
All the essays confirm the main thesis advanced in Ground Wars. It goes basically like this—
1) American political campaigns today face a specific combination of increased media fragmentation, low and uneven interest in politics, and a high degree of partisan polarization that makes field operations—primarily pursued in the form of canvassing and phone banking—particularly appealing to campaign strategists.
2) Experimental research has shown that personalized contacts are particularly effective ways of mobilizing “lazy partisans” and may even help persuade some of the (rare) swing voters. Continue reading
What do DJ LAZ (AKA, Miami’s “Pimp with the Limp”), the Food Network, #Eastwooding, TampaBay.com, your smart phone, and a neighbor knocking on your door have in common?
Each one is a key part of how President Obama’s re-election campaign plans to win on November 6. The formula is simple: reach each of us where we are, engage us with a message based in values and shared experiences, and motivate us to take action.
This strategy is apparent in actions big and small. Obama won’t win because of Twitter, but a recent moment shows just how seriously the campaign is taking the need to meet people where they are with a values-based message. Continue reading
In Rasmus Kleis Nielsen’s recently published Ground Wars, the author provides a detailed account of the continued importance of people power in American politics. Using data collected from ethnographic research with two Democratic campaigns for the House of Representatives in 2008, the author tells the story of how the Democratic party runs its field operations, working with individual volunteers and part-timers to get their candidates elected (or not, as is the case with one of the two case studies in the book). The book provides an interesting account of the political Left in America. However, it leaves the reader very curious to understand how the two cases presented fit within the apparatus of the Democratic Party, as well as into the broader spectrum of politics in America today. As we look towards the upcoming election, big questions arise about how the field will be managed and the ground war fought this year for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Thanks to research conducted by a handful of scholars including Nielsen, we know a decent amount about how field operations work on the political Left and how the Democratic ground war has changed in the past ten years. Continue reading
In Ground Wars, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen makes an important contribution in revealing and analyzing an important trend in political campaigning that has taken shape over the last two decades: the increasing investment in face-to-face political communication through field efforts. Nielsen describes how over-saturation in advertising markets, media fragmentation, and signature social science field experiments have lead to candidates at all levels of office engaging in “ground wars” fought by volunteers and paid canvassers going door-to-door to identify the partisan affiliations of and deliver messages to voters—all in the hope of bringing sympathizers to the polls on election day. In light of these findings, Nielsen shows how much political communication scholars have overlooked in focusing so much attention on television advertising and press coverage. Continue reading
Rasmus Klies Nielsen’s Ground Wars brings refreshing focus to the role interpersonal communication can play in even the most high-tech, high dollar, high-profile 2012 electoral campaign. This is an important reality check for those who think it’s all simply a matter of who can buy the best ads.
There is, however, another aspect to this question that I’d like to highlight: the difference in whether one employs interpersonal communication as yet another marketing technique or whether it is used to engage people in organizing to become active participants in the political process. This distinction is of particular significance for Democrats who cannot rely on the network of gun clubs, evangelical churches, right to life groups, and tea party chapters that so successfully provided the grassroots base for an ascendant conservative movement over the course of the last 30 years. Continue reading
In his recent book Ground Wars Rasmus Kleis Nielsen[i] offers an insightful look inside the workings of the Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) effort of Democratic candidates for US-congress during the campaign in 2008. This detailed account of the goals, methods and actual practices of GOTV efforts is in and of itself interesting but it also offers insights to a much deeper and more decisive question present day campaigners face. Namely, how do campaigns and candidates effectively reach their potential voters in an age of abundant media choices, fragmented audiences and information saturation? Personalized GOTV efforts, as described by Nielsen in his book, might offer a temporary answer. But an answer, as he will probably be the first to state, whose actual effectiveness over time, varying campaign contexts, and different countries has yet to be proven. Continue reading
Boing Boing reports on a recent campaign by Chicago advertising giant, Leo Burnett Worldwide, to defeat a Tea Party campaign against a proposed 0.7% tax increase to support the Troy Michigan public library. The campaign’s major feature was a hoax designed to change the narrative. Burnett won an Effie Award in the Good Works category with the campaign, and produced a slick video about it:
I am only familiar with the literature on campaign spending and turnout from drinking beer with a colleague who studies ballot initiatives in California, and I will spare you my alcohol addled beliefs based upon such conversation. Suffice it to say that Leo Burnett makes some intriguing claims about turning out Yes voters in local elections. Perhaps I can entice someone with actual knowledge to comment somewhere. In the interim, what should we take from this little nugget of a present day Mad Men agency executing a hoax to influence elections?