by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century
Trump triumphed in 2016 when he won the Electoral College vote, even
though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. We have seen how much this matters in the year since he has become President, which is especially true because the Republicans also won both houses of Congress, allowing President Trump to carry out his platform promises, creating major changes in tax policy, immigration, foreign policy, trade and making Supreme Court and lower court appointments. There is broad resistance to those Trump policies, but by executive orders and the momentum of the first year of his presidency, he continues often to get his way in changing the country’s direction.
Trump’s victorious campaign strategy emphasizing charisma and addressing voters’ anger won out won over that of the less charismatic candidate Hillary Clinton following a careful game plan. Anger in both political parties – as reflected in the Democrats supporting Bernie Sanders and Trump Republican voters – reflected real needs and a high level of discontent.
The recent Illinois primaries were the second national primary elections after those earlier in the month in Texas and they are a harbinger of things to come in November. The biggest battle in 2018 is the attempt of the Democrats to gain 24 seats in the House of Representatives and two seats in the Senate to retake control of one or both houses of Congress in order to block further Trump administration policies.
Results from the Illinois election show higher voter turnout in a greater number of contested elections. Early voting and absentee voting was more than double the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections and the final vote tallies show that 2018 Illinois voter turnout exceeded 30%, as compared to the midterm general election of 2014 when only 16 percent turned out. While not as high a turnout as desirable, these figures show that voters perceived the choices to be important. As is usual in a midterm election, the party out of power was energized, with Democrats voting twice as heavily as Republicans.
The Democratic races were mostly close and interesting. In the gubernatorial race, Pritzker won the Democratic vote easily while Rauner barely beat Jeanne Ives, his opponent in the Republican primary. If we divide the total amount spent by the campaign with his total number of votes, Rauner paid $215 for each vote, and Pritzker paid nearly as much. In the attorney general race, Kwame Raoul defeated former Governor Pat Quinn and six other candidates. In the Cook County assessor race incumbent Democrat Joe Berrios, an ally of controversial Party Chairman Mike Madigan, was defeated by Fritz Kaegi. Significantly, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was elected to Congress and the progressive Latino candidates he supported defeated even incumbent State Legislator Daniel J. Burke, a relative of powerful Chicago alderman Ed Burke.
This sets the stage for the other 2018 elections and the 2020 races to follow, and it is clear that those elections will follow the strategies spelled out in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century
21st Century Campaigns: the Increasing Role of Money and Online Data Analyitics
There were other lessons in the 2016 and 2018 elections, specifically, the important roles both money and computer-generated data analytics will play in most future elections. In terms of campaign funding, every election seems to be more expensive than the last. 2016 was one the most expensive elections in American history, with at least $1.3 billion being spent by presidential candidates, $1 billion by candidates for the House of Representatives and $700 million on the U.S. Senate contests. In the most expensive race for Illinois State Legislature in 2016, the candidates spent from $106 to $113 for each of the 20,000 votes they each received.
Nonetheless, any campaign begins with a budget and the contribution that the candidate and his or her family are willing to contribute so you know how much you need to raise, whether it is $10,000 or a million dollars. You could have the best candidate in the world the best campaign theme, and an inferior opponent, and still lose. You have to raise money to be taken seriously as a candidate. To run for alderman or state legislator you have to raise at least $250,000; Congressional races cost over a million dollars, and Statewide races for U.S. Senate or Governor cost tens of millions.
Unless you are independently wealthy like Donald Trump, or the Illinois gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner or J. B. Pritzker, you have to raise money from contributors including wealthier individuals and groups like Labor Union or Business PACs. Beyond campaign fundraising parties and web site requests for donations, the primary secret to raising money is to have the candidate personally ask prospects herself. Several hours a day a staff member or volunteer literally places calls for the candidate to the prospect list who have usually received a letter of solicitation beforehand.
Candidates simply hate to do fundraising calls, but even though it seems to them too much like begging, they still have to make the calls every day if they want to be elected. Once elected, our congressional representatives spend from 2-4 hours a day making fundraising calls for their next election.
In addition to the one-on-one fundraising calls to individuals and PAC officials, money is raised by positioning a contribute button prominently on the campaign web site and by sending frequent emails or social media messages to all campaign supporters for smaller campaign contributions from $5 to $500. These small amounts add up; the average campaign contribution to the Bernie Sanders campaign was $27. The secret is that once someone has given online or in person, they can be solicited again and again. These online messages are frequently tested with smaller groups until the campaign determines the most effective “ask” to produce the best results when sent to the entire list of supporters.
In 2018 in Illinois, we had the most expensive gubernatorial primary in American history with Democratic challenger Pritzker spending almost $70 million and Republican incumbent Rauner spending over $75 million; the next three candidates (two Democrats, one Republican) spent over $13 million total. This election alone affirms that we desperately need real public funding of campaigns or “Small D Democracy,” as advocates call it.
The second element that 21st century campaigns now include (on top of the traditional campaign strategies) is the increased used of voter analytics with online campaigning. Some of you are Democrats and would never vote for a Republican and some of you are Republicans and would almost never vote for a Democrat. In old Chicago the Democratic precinct captains would know who would vote for their party’s slate of candidates, but now with computer analytic tools anyone with enough money and computer savvy can know.
Take the example of Tea Party conservative David Brat, who ran for Congress in Virginia’s Republican 2014 primary election. With only $200,000 in his war chest, he beat then Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who spent over $5 million in his campaign. Brat simply got more of his people out to vote by using voter analytics to find the voters who could be persuaded to cast ballots against Cantor.
Similarly, Winning Elections tells the story of how now-Illinois State Senator Will Guzzardi was able to use voter analytics in an Illinois state legislative race to defeat Chicago Democratic Party Boss Joe Berrios’ daughter, despite the best efforts of their allies to keep her in the state legislature.
Voter analytics combines information about who voted in each election with personal information gleaned from credit card purchases and Internet browsing, then adds voter responses from campaign contacts. Thus, in a Chicago ward that may have less than 20,000 voters, analytics can find and rank potential supporters your campaign should contact, which in this case would be less than 10,000. The Obama Presidential campaigns used a scale from 1-100 and any voters who scored higher than 65 were “must contacts.” The usual system uses “+”, “—“, and zero symbols or a sample scale of 1-5.
The use of analytics can make easier what is still our two most effective method of delivering the campaign message: door-to-door precinct work and phone canvassing. In both instances, voter analytics finds the potential supporters on which a campaign can focus, and can also provide information on how to best approach them.
Voter analytics would not be as effective as it is were it not for the exponential growth of social media. Today, most campaigns have a social media component, which tends to evolve to suit its candidates campaign style in each election. For instance, Hillary Clinton’s campaign at first looked like a media start-up with dozens of staff producing original content. She had a blog anchored by five full-time writers. Meanwhile, Donald Trump sat at his computer and sent out missives with more than 5,000 posts on Twitter in the first few months of the primary campaign which, in turn generated 85 million interactions on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Trump continued this tactic throughout the campaign and election and even now in the White House
Social media campaigns start with a simple looking campaign website with the same colors photos and message as other campaign materials such as brochures and yard signs. Added to that are campaign email lists partly gathered from the web pages of donors, volunteers, and supporters, who are contacted weekly online to contribute, attend events and volunteer. After a campaign has its basic web page and email lists, it establishes social media pages, (at the very least, on Facebook page and Twitter) so that people can follow the campaign and retweet or repost critical messages. For instance, through social media, the Bernie Sanders campaign scheduled 74 phone banking events at homes in the Chicago area, at which volunteers called Iowa voters before the caucuses in February, 2016.
In the end, the 2016 election was one in which the majority of American voted “no!” against the elites and the status quo. There had been more than 4.4 million home foreclosures since the Great Recession began in 2008. There have been no real salary increases for the working and middle class for nearly two decades. Unemployment, especially in ghetto areas and among young adults remains too high. Americans were mad as hell and by their vote they signaled that they weren’t going to take it anymore.
The 2018 election with its turnout twice that of 2014, indicates that voters are still both engaged and divided. On a more positive note, the Texas and Illinois primaries show us that voter participation is up, as are the number of people running for office. How the new and old candidates, Trump supporters and “resisters” alike, reach and motivate these voters is spelled out in Winning Elections in the 21st Century.
Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.
Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.