Get Out the Vote for Political Campaigns- transcript


Get Out VoteJohn Tsarpalas: In today’s podcast, Kristina Keats and I are going to be talking about field operations and Get Out the Vote. I have never seen a campaign win that did not have a strong Get Out the Vote plan.

You can raise money, you can mail, and you can advertise, but unless you know who is voting for you and you make sure they are showing up to vote, you are going to get beat. So today is Commonwealthy #42, Get Out the Vote for the Political Campaign.

Today Kristina Keats and I are going to talk about Get Out the Vote. But before we get to Get Out the Vote, I want to start with bigger picture, Tina. Often it’s referred to as field operations.

Field operations in my mind is people on people contact: door to door, phone calls, and, to a certain extent, events. However, events don’t help you ID people or help you know who to get to the polls during those final days when people can go vote or get them out to vote (the GOTV, Get Out the Vote).

So why don’t we back up here, since I have yacked on. Let’s first of all define field operations again.

Kristina Keats: Well, just if I can make one comment, it’s worth it to listen to the Get Out the Vote first before you go back because you need to understand why you are doing all the fields op.

John Tsarpalas: Right, that is true. You need the end result. You need that big picture.

Kristina Keats: It may seem confusing, like why are we doing all this? The whole point is you are trying to find the people who are going to support you or your candidate so that when it is time to turn the vote out, you know who to push to polls and how to do that.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: The field organization basically is, as John said, any field contact: any contact with voters where you can get information from them and find out whether or not they are going to support you. One of other podcast you might want to listen to is the one on the intern program.

John Tsarpalas: Yes, that’s a good one.

Kristina Keats: It’s a good way to get volunteers, especially phoning volunteers.

John Tsarpalas: We’ve done some podcasts in the past that I think people might want to go back to before they actually listen to this one. One of those is Commonwealthy #10, Door to Door. It is literally how to knock on doors and talk to people.

In Commonwealthy #14, we talked about voter ID scripts. That’s about how to talk to people and then get their information. You are going to put that into a database that is going to be absolutely guiding the whole effort on Get Out the Vote because the people you are going to turn out are the ones that are supporting you or perhaps in harmony with you on an issue.

We talked about volunteers and how you can recruit them in Commonwealthy #15. I think that is integral. You can’t do a good field operation without a lot of help, a lot of manpower, and a lot of volunteers.

Kristina Keats: So just to get the concept overall, as you are gathering information from the day you decide to run until Election Day, trying to find out which voters are going to vote for you. That is the whole purpose of your campaign really.

Yeah, you are going to advertising, you are going to give speeches, you are going to walk in parades, and all kinds of other things that are visible. That’s so that people get to see you. But the whole point of the campaign is to try to determine who is going to support you.

This is not new. Abraham Lincoln wrote about it when he was in the Whig party in the 1850s, very simply sending out the Whig party supporters to go from farm to farm to identify who was for them so that they would make sure those people went and voted. So it’s a real simple concept. But it’s enormously labor intensive to get done.

But if you want to win, it is the hardest way and the hardest path, but the most successful and the most sure thing.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You could raise five million dollars and send a piece of paper to the door every single day and still lose. There have certainly been campaigns that did that. Unfortunately, the media and a lot of the establishment political people think that money is everything. Whoever has the most money will win. It just isn’t true.

You have to have enough money to be able to print your literature. You have to enough money to be able to rent a space and get phones and provide pizza and donuts for your volunteers. You have to have a certain amount of money. But money is only a prerequisite; it’s not a guarantee.

John Tsarpalas: Let me interrupt you. What was glaring to me is I live in Chicago. They talk about the Chicago political machine. What does that mean? That means that they know who is voting for them.

And it also means that they have “volunteers” (union people and political patronage jobs, that are illegal, but people who know their job depends on voting Democrat) knowing their precinct, knowing their district, and knowing who will vote for a Democrat and who won’t. On Election Day, they make sure those people have shown up to the polls and voted. And their livelihood depends on it.

Kristina Keats: Right, their job depends on it. In fact, it even goes further than that. Before you can even be considered for a government job, you have to work a precinct. You have to pay your dues. They start out giving you a block. If you do a good job with the block, then they keep building it up.

In order to get those cushy government jobs, which is what they are now, you have to pay your dues. That means working and making sure, in the case of Chicago, the Democrats get elected and keep their positions.

Unfortunately for the other side, they don’t usually have that. I mean, there is some patronage and there used to be, when Lake County was all Republican, a little bit of patronage. But they didn’t have it organized to the extent that the Democrats did where you had to do the work in order to get the job.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I should throw a caveat in here. All of that stuff is supposedly illegal. It is still happening, but how do you prove it?

Kristina Keats: Right, because how do you prove it.

John Tsarpalas: Right, you don’t.

Kristina Keats: People just happen to want to volunteer for the Democrat Party in Chicago and they just happen…

The most nefarious thing (I have personal experience with this) is they have these really high paying jobs, but they were temporary. They would make these people work in the precincts forever and then they would get one of these high paying jobs, but it would last six months. Then they were let go and it cycled into someone else who had been precinct for five years to get it.

They really build their army and they use those jobs to motivate people to work. The bottom line is they train them, they know what they are doing, and they understand that their livelihood depends on it.

John Tsarpalas: The other thing that has happened is over years, they know where their voters are. They know this house and that house and this kid has just turned eighteen, so they registered him and got him ready to vote. So they’ve identified their voters, which is the first step in a good field operation. Who is voting for you? ID them and have that in a database so that come Get Out the Vote time, you can then turn around and pull up that list. Make sure everyone on that list votes and you check them off.

Kristina Keats: The other thing that they have going for them, at least in the city of Chicago, is if you don’t vote Democrat, they won’t pick up your garbage.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s the old wives tale.

Kristina Keats: That’s why you don’t see very many Republican primary voters in Chicago. It’s public record. And most of the ones who do vote Republican live in high rises so they are not going to lose their garbage pickup. Because people know that! You know just don’t go take a Republican primary ballot; you won’t get your garbage picked up. It’s a reality. It’s not right.

John Tsarpalas: Well, right. The alderman will work with you if your sidewalk is cracked if you are Democrat. If you are Republican, they might ignore you.

Kristina Keats: They’ve got it down to everything. If you have a visitor visiting and you need a temporary parking pass, you get it from your alderman.

John Tsarpalas: Right, you’ve got to go in and kiss the ring.

Kristina Keats: Right, basic things that everybody is going to need at some time, like garbage, parking, etc., you get through your alderman. And they can withhold it if they want to. And what are you going to do about it?

John Tsarpalas: Right. And if you are a smart businessman in Chicago, you are giving to the alderman’s campaign. And perhaps you are giving to the mayor, too. But more than anything, you’ve got to go talk to that alderman and make sure he is getting a little so that he will help your business. Make sure if you’ve got a problem, you can call him, etc.

Kristina Keats: We are sort of sidetracking.

John Tsarpalas: We are completely off track. But that is what builds their operation.

Kristina Keats: This is not a system that we invented in terms of identifying votes. It is just one that we perfected from our point of view in terms of being able to identify votes and how to find them.

John Tsarpalas: Right. But we have been successful with volunteers- people that are motivated out of principle, people that are motivated because they want to support a candidate, people that are doing this for the right reason, not because there is money in it for them.

Kristina Keats: Right. And certainly there isn’t any for our volunteers for the most part.

John Tsarpalas: No. Perhaps the money would be lower taxes at some point or something like that, but that’s the only payoff.

Kristina Keats: Yeah, it’s pretty down the road. But at any rate, that’s to understand why you are gathering all of this information. Finding out how someone is going to vote is worth it’s weight in gold. That’s why you have to have someone who knows what they are doing keeping your data updated and making sure it is accurate.

Let’s say you have been doing all of this right. You have volunteers. You are going door to door. You are making phone calls. Now you have identified ten thousand households in your district that are going to vote for you.

The important thing for you to understand is that just because people say they are going to vote for you doesn’t mean they go to the polls. Unfortunately a huge percentage of people don’t go to the polls. So that is what the Get Out the Vote effort is all about.

Now, in this day and age where you have early voting that starts a month before the actual election day, you need to use that to your advantage. The way that you use it is you identify by looking at your database those voters who said they were going to vote for you who are least likely to go to the polls.

How do you know who those are? They are the ones who haven’t voted in the past. So if you have someone who said that they would vote for you and they are somewhat erratic about voting, like they voted in one in four elections or one in five elections or have never voted, those are the people who are your highest priority to get to the polls.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And let’s back up here. When you are setting up your database, your system for field operations, you are downloading the past four election cycles at least, along with the primaries.

Kristina Keats: More if you can get it.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So all of this is in your database so that when you set up your parameters, it will tell you they voted one in four, they never voted, etc.

Kristina Keats: Exactly. Or you buy that from your local officials. You start with that.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, it would be your county board of elections, your state board of elections. You put that into your database.

Kristina Keats: Right. That’s where you start. And where you can gather, like if you know people who have run before who have older databases and they are willing to give it to you, you do. You connect it by the voter ID and get more information on people.

Basically the first thousand people you start working to get to the polls are the ones you work with early voting. The only way, the only way, you get someone to go to the polls is with a personal contact. A personal contact is not an email. It is not a text message. It is a phone call or a door knock.

John Tsarpalas: Let me take a little aside here. I have had a stressful week dealing with some volunteers. You’ve got to talk to people on a phone or face to face. You can’t do it with your volunteers with all email or texting. It just don’t motivate them.

Kristina Keats: Or the voters.

John Tsarpalas: Or the voters. But anyway, I am just talking about the volunteers for a moment. I am off on a side tangent.

Kristina Keats: Right, but it’s the same. People are people. Actually this isn’t just my experience, but I can totally tell you that is my experience. A phone call or a knock on the door is the only thing that can motivate people to do something.

There actually was a study and I forget who did it. It doesn’t matter. It was some Ivy League school that was studying voting behavior and Get Out the Vote. They also determined from their study that it was only a physical connection to a voter that changed behavior. Just understand that.

It doesn’t mean that you always connect. But you can make a phone call. You leave a message. You leave a note on their door or something so that they know you physically attempt to connect with them. But until you actually have that physical connection, you may not be successful. So that’s important to know.

The thing that is really important to think about is to manage your time going to the people who are least likely to vote. Don’t waste your time. If you have someone who has voted in every election that you can see, including every primary and local election, then don’t call that person. They would have to be dead before they don’t vote.

So you have to use your few limited volunteer time to go after the people who are at risk of not voting. You should be able to see who those people are by looking at your database.

I remember when we still lived in Illinois and every Republican candidate before the general election would send a robo-call to our house to get us to vote. I am thinking, ‘You are kidding me! Do you really think we are at risk of not voting? Are you not looking at your database?’

John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly.

Kristina Keats: Now, robo-calls are cheap, but they are annoying, too. So you have to be careful about using your robo-calls in an effective way, not just to make you feel better that you are doing it. You don’t want to annoy people.

And a robo-call won’t get people to go vote, by the way. Even though it is cheap and it might only cost you $300 to do a robo-call, $300 is $300 you shouldn’t spend on something that is not effective.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Before we get into the specifics of early voting, absentee ballots, the last seventy-two hours that weekend before the election or even Election Day, let’s go back to a couple of other things that happened in field operations.

We do have parades, events, and things like that that are often coordinated by the field manager if it is a bigger campaign. Events get your name out and get you seen. Mailings get your name out, get you seen, and gives people an idea of what you stand for. They help to convince people that they should support you and all of those types of things. But that doesn’t mean that they are voting for you until you have talked to them and you’ve asked.

Kristina Keats: Right, you don’t know.

John Tsarpalas: You don’t know. You can make certain guesses. Perhaps I will get an interview with someone who is a micro-targeting expert. That’s a whole other topic. They actually do turnout voters using that based on the birds of a feather theory, that if you go to NASCAR races you are probably a Republican.

Kristina Keats: Right. But I have worked with the micro-targeting. It’s good.

John Tsarpalas: It’s not perfect though.

Kristina Keats: It helps you identify some of those voters that you don’t know because they never take primary ballots. But it’s on the margin. And you’ve got to call them anyway.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. There is nothing better than calling.

Kristina Keats: My only point on this is micro-targeting is very, very expensive. If you don’t have that kind of money, just make the phone call. You’ve got to make the phone calls anyway. All they are doing is helping to narrow it down so that you are maybe going to get a better yield. It doesn’t matter.

You want to just call as many people and knock on as many doors as you can to hunt for your support. All of the micro-targeting helps get you oriented closer to a vote, but it still doesn’t get the vote. And it costs a lot of money. If you have lots of money, great; do it. But if you don’t, the cheapest way to do it is just to make that phone call or knock on that door and ask them because you will find out. If you know how to talk to people, you will find out.

But getting back to all the other stuff (the events, parades, etc.), that’s to create momentum. It’s also to show people that you want the job. If you don’t show up at stuff, they are not going to know you exist and they are not going to know you want the job.

So it’s really important that they get a sense that you are everywhere and that you want the job. That is critical. And they get a chance to see you. They’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I remember him. I remember her. I saw her at the” fill in the blank.

John Tsarpalas: Right, it puts a face to the name when they see some piece of literature. You are a real person. So it is important to be seen. It is important to get out.

Kristina Keats: Right. There are ways, if you want to, to try and gather information when you are at big events. I’ve done this before. You pick an issue that is your issue or that would identify your team, let’s say. Have volunteers there passing a petition because then you get people to sign it.

We did one years ago to repeal the sales tax on gasoline. It was really helpful because Republicans want less taxes and Democrats don’t. It helps you find people who maybe never vote in primaries but agree with your philosophically.

John Tsarpalas: Right. As long as we are talking about this, you can also, for instance, get from the state lists of people with hunting licenses. You can get lists of boat owners and motorcycle people. And then there are lists you can buy through marketing companies that perhaps will help guide you towards a voter like certain publications.

Kristina Keats: Right. If you can build a strong volunteer organization, you can get your own information.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. That’s absolutely the best.

Kristina Keats: Right. Leave no stone unturned. Especially if you are walking a precinct, you knock on every door. You don’t know if they might have moved or whatever. But you get so much effort in getting out there that it doesn’t hurt to just knock and find out if your voter rolls are accurate.

Again you have to prioritize. What do we do first? Where do we go first?

John Tsarpalas: Right. Well, your problem is time and manpower in this situation.

Kristina Keats: And you never have enough time.

John Tsarpalas: And you never have enough help.

Kristina Keats: And you never have enough volunteers. You have to go where you think your votes are. That starts with the data and doing the analysis. Where did votes come from before, in what precincts? These are the ones you should work first early. And you keep working down the list.

Assuming you have done that, now you’ve got to get your vote out. Okay, how do you do that? We have already talked about starting with the people who are least likely to be able to vote. You start before early voting starts.

My philosophy would be to take that top half of people who are the fifty percent who are least likely to vote and that is who you would work for the whole time. Don’t work the ones who are probably going to vote anyway. You are wasting your time and you don’t have enough time because it gets really intense at the end to get your vote out.

John Tsarpalas: Well, I do believe you should at least mail them once. Mail them something.

Kristina Keats: Oh, well you are mailing.

John Tsarpalas: You are mailing to the whole universe. Okay, so we are talking about two different strategies. The mail is one strategy and field is another.

Kristina Keats: I am just talking about the personal contact to get them to the polls.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: You really want to concentrate on the ones who are not likely to vote. And then you need to, if it is possible in your voting area (most areas are sophisticated enough to do this because pretty everyone is voting using computers), get the list every day of who voted.

John Tsarpalas: Right, and check them off.

Kristina Keats: Load that into your database so that you stop calling people who have already voted.

John Tsarpalas: Because you are wasting time and money to reach them.

Kristina Keats: Right. And you don’t want to do that. You want to spend your time in the most efficient way possible. That’s the big thing about how to win elections: just don’t waste your time. So many campaigns waste their time because they don’t think through a strategy; they just start flailing. They go out there and they talk to people and they don’t record it. They never get organized.

You are calling and then you are gathering the information of who has already voted so you don’t have to call them. I think I read recently that something like half the people are voting early now.

John Tsarpalas: In certain states, correct.

Kristina Keats: It makes sense. But you will know. You should know your area of what percentage is voting early where you are and keep working it. If they never pick up and they are really at risk, after you have made five phone calls and they haven’t picked up or voted, then go to their door. Knock on their door. Leave a note, “We really need your vote. Victory depends on you.”

It has to be a beg. It can’t be, “Don’t forget to vote!” These are people who don’t vote, so if you want them to vote, you have to give them a compelling reason to vote. “We need your vote. We depend on you. We could lose without your vote” and that sort of thing.

John Tsarpalas: Alright, let’s tell the Kenilworth story. It shows you about knowing who is going to vote for you and not pushing hard enough, but yet pulling it out because you had the databse.

Kristina Keats: Right, yeah.

John Tsarpalas: I mean, it was a nightmare, but-

Kristina Keats: But we won.

John Tsarpalas: We won, but… Well, let’s tell the story. Let’s start from the beginning.

Kristina Keats: Okay, well, we were identifying our vote. We were having a problem with our team, let’s put it that way, where they were all beginners.

John Tsarpalas: It was a slate we were running first of all. That was a problem. This was a local village board and village president election.

Kristina Keats: And unfortunately no matter how many times we would tell them to stop doing what they were doing because they needed to focus and go door to door and talk to voters and persuade, they were like crazy people. Every time the opposition would do something, like have a coffee, instead of staying focused on what they should be doing, they’d run to the coffee and stand outside to see who went. Literally, it was just a nightmare.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, a waste of time. If they had kept knocking doors and identifying people and winning over the vote door to door, then it would have been a much easier situation. But anyway, we still won. Let’s keep going.

Kristina Keats: But they wouldn’t do that. They just got distracted by everything, anything that would happen. Meanwhile, the other team which was being run by the Chicago Democrat machine—

John Tsarpalas: Right, and this is a nonpartisan village race, so know that the parties are there.

Kristina Keats: Right. They were going door to doo and registering new voters up the ying-yang to vote for their group. There were 1,800 registered voters and we had identified enough to win based on the 1,800 that we knew about.

Election Day comes and there are all these voters voting who we didn’t have any record of that had just registered to vote four days before the deadline or whatever. It didn’t matter; they weren’t in the database. So we appropriately concluded they weren’t ours; we weren’t doing this. The other team was doing this. So we had to pull out all the stops.

There were people (just to show you how naïve and stupid voters are, even in Kenilworth, Illinois, one of the wealthiest areas in the country were people are not stupid, but they are just naïve and stupid about voting) who had written checks to five hundred dollars who didn’t go vote. They bought into the Washington political establishment view that money is everything.

John Tsarpalas: Oh, he had a lot of money. We raised a lot of money. “Oh, they are going to win. I gave them money. They are going to win. So I don’t even have to show up to vote.” Well, yeah, right!

Kristina Keats: Right. They didn’t have early voting in those days, but they had in person absentee where you could go to the village hall and vote in person because you weren’t going to be in town on Election Day. You could do this up to I think the Saturday before the election.

All I know is there was a guy who had give us five hundred bucks who was on the train getting ready to go out of town and didn’t vote on Election Day. He and his wife both didn’t vote.

Anyway, it was a desperate situation. Then we had to make sure we had someone standing in front of each precinct, trying to persuade voters as they were walking in to vote for us. Not only that, but we had to find every single vote that we knew about to get them to the polls.

It literally meant sending people to babysit while the mom went to the polls and driving people to the polls. Usually you don’t do that because usually there aren’t that many people who need it. But we were so desperate that we had to have every single vote. If they said, “Well, I can’t go,” we were there.

The final winning vote was getting off a plane. This was again a big supporter, someone who had actually done work for us.

John Tsarpalas: Written a check, yeah.

Kristina Keats: He didn’t vote early and went out of town and was coming in on a plane. We had to get a hold of him to come and go straight to the polls without going home because he would have been too late. I think he got there two minutes before the closing of the polls. We won by-

John Tsarpalas: Two votes.

Kristina Keats: Two votes. It wasn’t that we didn’t know what we were doing, because we did. Partly it was because it was a place like Kenilworth where everybody was highly educated and wealthy, so they knew more. They all knew better how to do this than we did. They just wouldn’t do what needed to be done.

John Tsarpalas: Well, I think we didn’t educate them on how close this was going to be and how important each vote would be.

Kristina Keats: I think we did. We kept saying, “Look, this isn’t how you win. You don’t win by going to the opposition’s coffee.”

John Tsarpalas: No, you are talking about the candidates. I am talking about the voters. We should have put more urgency into showing up to absentees.

Kristina Keats: Oh, when talking to the voters, urging them to vote and go to the polls.

John Tsarpalas: Yes. “Go vote at the village hall now. This is a small town and it is going to be down to the wire.”

Kristina Keats: Right. See, they were overconfident because they had all this money and because they had all of the establishment in town, the people who had been there for a hundred years. Well, of course, all of the people who moved in didn’t care. They didn’t even know, so they didn’t care.

That was who was voting with the other side, not necessarily because they agreed with other side. They may or may not have. But that was the only people who contacted them, who actually knocked on their door and said, “There is an election coming and we would like you to vote for us.”

It can be that way. The problem with people who are active politically is you forget that the average person is not engaged and may or may not know what is going on. Mostly they will not know what is going on. When it comes to local elections, they really don’t know what is going on. You can’t leave it to chance.

John Tsarpalas: Right. You can’t leave it to chance, hence you have to have a good voter ID and a motivated Get Out the Vote plan, which we are getting to. This is sort of the overview. We want people to understand the concept here and give you a little idea on reality. So, thanks, Tina.

One of the really fun or interesting things about having a good Get Out the Vote plan and a good database is you can see how many people are voting for you at the end of every day and how many were ID’ed. We usually refer to them as plusses and minuses. Plusses are people who are voting for you. Minuses are people who are not. And then you have the unidentified.

As the unidentified universe shrinks and you get closer to your vote goal, which we have talked about in earlier podcasts, you should determine how many votes you need to win. As you see that you are approaching that goal of how many votes you need to win and once you hit it, theoretically you have won or you can win if you get everyone to the polls.

I have been in campaigns where we could see that we were winning and we could see where we were losing. This is not polling. This was done through our field operations and our identification process.

We are going to give you a couple of weeks to digest what Tina and I just talked about. We will be back in a few weeks to talk about early voting, absentee, and the election day process of getting out that vote and making sure those people get there. It is critical to have a good plan for those periods as well, not only the ID’ing period.

If you are confused about what we talked about in Get Out the Vote, feel free to email me at I am happy to answer questions. If you need a training or coaching in this area or a plan, also feel free to reach out to me. This is how I make my living. I am a political coach. Thanks for listening! Talk to you next week.



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