Targeting Voters with Kristina Keats CW 13 Transcript

TargetingJohn Tsarpalas: A successful campaign needs to decide early on who the campaign is going to reach out to. Who is likely to vote and who will vote for you? This is the Commonwealthy podcast #13, Targeting Voters.

Hi, I am here with Kristina Keats. We are going to talk about who are you going to talk to? Who do you think is going to vote for you? Who is the likely voter? Who do you want to target.

So, Tina, back in podcast #3, Analyzing Past Election Results, we talked about going to their Board of Elections, getting as much data as possible from all the past vote cycles, and taking a look at that data.

So let’s pick it up from that point. They’ve got their election cycle data. They know who the voters are. They know who voted and what elections. They probably have three cycles back at least. They have local elections and they have presidential years, gubernatorial years, and off years.

They’ve got a lot of data. Where should they start picking through this and go from there?

Kristina Keats:

So for example, if you are running for school board, the people who are most likely to vote in school board elections are the ones who have voted in school board elections past.

The first thing that you should do in looking at your data is look at the race that you are running for and actually see how many people voted in that election.

Typically for school board, we’ll use that as an example, but it applies to all offices, whether it is city council, village board, or park board. Whatever you might be running for, these general principals apply.

In a school board election, typically where you have sixteen to eighteen thousand voters, you might see twelve hundred people voting, which is an incredibly low number.

Circumstances can change; when you have highly contested races with angry residents, you can get that turnout up. But in general, if it is just a run of the mill election, that’s the kind of percentages that you can be looking at for a local election.

You start with the people who have voted in these elections before. Those are the people that you want to try and contact, whether it is to get them to sign your petition or once your petitions have been filed, these are the people that you want to go knock on their door and talk to them.

They will be the ones who are the most receptive to hearing what you have to say, who will actively perhaps get involved in your campaign or listen to you. But first and foremost, those are the people you need to get to talk to you to get them to vote for you.

But you don’t want to stop there because there are always newly registered people in the town who potentially could vote. That’s the next group you want to look at: anyone who has registered to vote since the last election. And again, you can get that information from whoever is running your voter registration or who keeps those records.

So those are also people who you want to talk to because the likelihood of someone voting in the next election if they have registered since the last election is very high.

These are the people who you call civic, who just feel they have a civic duty to participate in the process and vote. So those the first two groups that you would target.

John Tsarpalas: Let me stop you there.

Kristina Keats: Sure.

John Tsarpalas: Because at this moment, if I am a newbie, I am feeling overwhelmed.

Kristina Keats: Okay.

John Tsarpalas: Let’s go back to the data. Okay, you’ve got a disk. You put it in your computer. Or you’ve got a download and it is in your computer. And you start sorting this out.

Do you start at a precinct level? How do you break this down into smaller nuggets that you can chew?

Kristina Keats: Well, you’ve got your precinct. You’ve got all your information there.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But what I like to do when I run campaigns is categorize my voters. So I go one, two, three, and four. The first category would be everybody who voted in this before. So you can literally just pull that and call those people category one.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So you sort those people into category one.

Kristina Keats: I sort them and I assign them so that at any point in time, I can run an analysis of who I have contacted in category one.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: Because you are going to keep track of everybody you talk to. Now sometimes it is not possible. You see someone on the street. You are passing out literature. You give them literature and you don’t know who they are.

But whenever you can find out who you are talking to, then try to determine whether they are for you or against you. If we haven’t talked about that previously, that’s something that we should in terms of how to determine whether someone is for you or against you.

Anyway, you are gathering all this data. So the most important people to talk to are your category one. I would put both the newly registered and the people who usually vote in this type of election in that category.

The second category out would be people who vote in primary elections because those people are more engaged than the people who don’t vote in primary elections.

You are going to find a lot of overlap. You are going to find a lot of people who vote in primary elections also vote in local elections. But you are also going to find people who vote in primary elections and don’t ever vote in a local election or don’t usually.

So you want that as your second possible category because they are again civic. They are engaged in the process. So if you contact them, you have a chance of motivating them to get them to the polls. And that’s what it is all about: how much time are you going to have to spend to get this person to go vote for you?

John Tsarpalas: Okay, that makes sense. I mean, I recently moved to a new town. I don’t know what is going on here locally. I did vote in the federal election and the state election. But when it came to the municipal elections, although I am newly registered here, I passed because I had no concept of who was about anything and was not contacted by a soul nor did I see any literature at all either.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So I had no idea what was happening, so I didn’t vote.

Kristina Keats: Right. But you would have been a prime person had someone come to your door or made a phone call at least.

John Tsarpalas: If I had talked to someone and thought, “Oh, I like their view,” I would have voted because I am someone who votes.

Kristina Keats: Right! You would have motivated to vote. But because you are a civic (and this is not unusual of civics and that’s what I call all the people who vote or have a high propensity of voting), you don’t like to vote if you don’t know anything.

They see voting as a very powerful thing. You don’t want to end up voting for an axe murderer because you like the way his name sounded on the ballot, which by the way, a lot of people vote like that.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Or they vote for what they consider “their group.”

John Tsarpalas: Let me give you a terrible confession. Here in Illinois, we vote for judges. No one knows anything about the judges. So what do I vote for? I vote for the judges that have a Greek last name because I have a Greek last name.

Are they qualified? Do I know where they stand? It’s terrible. It’s terrible, but I do that.

Kristina Keats: It is terrible! But that’s the whole point. If you get someone who is likely to vote and newly registered, and you make a phone call and say, “I am running for school board” and you talk to the person for five or ten minutes, you can get their vote. That’s the whole point of who do you talk to.

So first the people who voted in the past or newly registered. Then the next group would be your partisan groups. And if you are active in a party, which you probably are, then you should go first to your partisan group.

Call them up and say, “Hey, I see you voted in the Republican primary. I just wanted to let you know I am an active Republican and I am running for school board.”

John Tsarpalas: Even though this is a nonpartisan race, correct.

Kristina Keats: Even though it is a nonpartisan race. The reality is there is no such thing. The nonpartisan just means that people don’t have their party label beside them. But in my experience, the parties are working behind the scenes in many cases, but not all.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You have to use what you got to win. So that’s why you go to the partisan.

John Tsarpalas: So would you start with a list that you know are a Republican? Say you are a Republican running in a nonpartisan race. You know they also vote in the municipal races, the local races, and they are a Republican. Would you start your calls with them and say, “Hey, I am a Republican?”

Kristina Keats: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, because you’ve got the most in common with them.

Kristina Keats: Right because it is the easy call and they network. They’ll get the word out.

John Tsarpalas: And these are the people you could probably motivate to be volunteers, to donate, to invite to an event.

Kristina Keats: To help put up yard signs, etc.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats:  Okay. So absolutely. That’s a good point. If they are in both, go for it. Right?

John Tsarpalas:  Right.

Kristina Keats: And but you can’t just stop there because neither party, Republican or Democrat, in most situations can win races just on being that party.

John Tsarpalas: Partisan, right.

Kristina Keats: You always have to get people to vote for you who don’t affiliate with parties and even people from the opposite party to vote for you.

John Tsarpalas: No, you have to be prepared on the local issues and where you stand.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: When you are talking to these people, they will probably get into it and ask a few questions.

Kristina Keats: Right. Someone famously said, “All politics is local.” I think that is changing to a certain extent, but when it is local, it is local.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. 

Kristina Keats: People tend to be less partisan at the local level. They don’t really care. Let’s say you are a Republican. The Republicans would be happy to vote for you, but the non-Republicans to a large extent aren’t going to care because they think you agree with them on local issues or that you a good person who will work hard, etc. Being personable, that’s always worth a lot of votes.

So now you’ve got your first tier. After you’ve worked everybody in your first tier and you are just not getting any response or calling people and they won’t pick up or you are knocking on their door and they won’t answer and you have really saturated…

And saturation, by the way, can be when you’ve talked to twenty-five percent of the people in that category. Believe it or not, that can be a saturation level because remember human beings are group animals. We are social animals.

The old thing about how in six degrees of separation you can get to everybody in the world. Well, in a small town in a local election or even a large town in a local election, you’ve hit twenty-five percent of the people in a category and you are doing great; you’ve saturated it.

You never stop. You work hard until the end and you are always trying to get to meet those people. But if you’ve got that kind of percentage, chances are that you’ve gotten somebody in every group in that town in terms of kindergarten moms and Rotaries.

You’ve made an impression and people will talk to each other before the election about the election. Those people in that group, the civics, are going to communicate with each other because it is something they consider important.

But meanwhile, let’s go the next level and that would be who votes in off year elections. That’s a bigger group than the primary plus the local. In many states, that’s a governor’s race; I think it is in most states.

John Tsarpalas: Actually, I think a better word for it is not off year, but non-presidential.

Kristina Keats: You are right. Nonpresidential, that’s the right way to think about it. It doesn’t matter when it is, but it was a non-presidential election.

John Tsarpalas: Because you are right, Virginia does theirs in an off-year. But the non-presidential.

Kristina Keats: But everybody isn’t like that. If you are in a state that has nonpresidential elections, that is your next circle outside your number one target. So that’s your number two target. So then when you’ve saturated your first level, you start going to talk to those people.

And by talking to them I mean making phone calls. If you are going door to door, you go to everybody who you think might vote. It is too hard. You don’t skip doors. You’ve got someone who voted in a local and then you’ve got someone in a congressional and even someone in a presidential, you knock on the door.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: Because you’re final category is voted in a presidential.

John Tsarpalas: Let’s remind everybody that if you knocked on the door and you talked to somebody, you are writing it down and you are getting back into your database.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: They are for you. They are against you. They were undecided.

Kristina Keats: So when you are going door to door, you knock on the door of anybody who voted, okay? This gets us to the most important thing for first time candidates to understand. People are creatures of habit. If someone does not have the habit of voting, they are not likely to vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You have to accept that. So many first time candidates say, “Yes, but if they meet me, I am so charming and wonderful that they are going to be motivated to vote.” The answer is no.

People are creatures of habit in every way. Voting is a habit just like overeating is a habit. Drinking too much is a habit. Smoking is a habit. Anybody who from the outside has tried to change a habit of someone else knows that it is impossible.

And yet, first time candidates think that they can change voting habits, that they can knock on the door of someone who is not even registered, and they are going to talk them into registering and voting. You might as well just go beat your head against the wall.

John Tsarpalas: It is difficult. I would say you could if you could get them to agree to a time that you are going to get a registrar there.

Kristina Keats: Even if you register them, if they don’t care about, if they are not civic-minded enough to get their own rear end registered (excuse my French), you doing it… I remember when I was a first time candidate because I was so naïve. I thought everybody wanted to vote and everybody loves it.

No, some people hate voting. They hate the whole process. They don’t want to have anything to do with it. And you are not going to change it.

John Tsarpalas: Let me give you an exception though. You knock on a door of someone who is probably supporting you and probably leans your way. They are registered, and they’ve got a son or daughter or someone else in the household who could get registered. Sometimes that works.

Let’s go back to 2002. walked through our town, remember? Remember how they caught us short. You managed to squeak it out, but they caught us short because they registered so many people that we didn’t know about.

Kristina Keats: Right, in your one precinct.

John Tsarpalas: Yes.

Kristina Keats: It was one precinct that registered a whole bunch of people.

John Tsarpalas: Right, it was my precinct.

Kristina Keats: Right, it wasn’t

John Tsarpalas: It was terrible. Four hundred new registrations in a precinct, oh my god. I was going to kill myself.

Kristina Keats: It was an amazing precinct worker, which should give you hope. If you are an amazing candidate who works hard, you can make it happen.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: However, what you pointed out, my guess is most of the people who got registered (and again, this was before a congressional race) were either new town, so they were already civic but just hadn’t registered.

John Tsarpalas: Or a son or daughter.

Kristina Keats: Or a kid. And a kid is a first time thing. And if they are living at home and they have parents who are civics, the kids will get beaten over the head with a stick if they don’t go vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Yes, you can register, but not people who have lived there for twenty years and have never voted.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: And here’s another really sad thing that is hard for people to accept, even though it may be really sad, it could be your best friend who has never voted and wasn’t registered and doesn’t vote for you. Even though you beg them to register and to vote, they just won’t. They will not do it.

I have seen it happen time and time again. The next door neighbor and good friend doesn’t vote for the candidate.

The habit of voting is something that is really important to look at. To be smart about, if they haven’t voted, did they just move to town? Well, that’s a different story than someone who has lived there and never voted.

So yes, you can change behavior a little bit, but not a lot. Your job as a candidate is to talk to, meet, and secure the votes from as many people as are likely to go to the polls as you possibly can, not to change people’s voting habits. Does that make sense?

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, absolutely. You are not going to change people. People are just not like that.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: But find people who are already active in the voting process, who vote-

Kristina Keats: And will go vote.

John Tsarpalas: And who might be new to the area. Then you can get them motivated to go vote.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: But you are not going to teach new tricks to an old dog.

Kristina Keats: Right. And speaking of old dogs, likelihood of voting increases with age. If you are going to work on a group of people, go for the old people.

First off, they are home during the day. They are easy to get to. They will often times talk to you because they are not as busy. Start there. You get them and they are going to show up, I guarantee it.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You may be a thirty-five year old mom of a fourth grader who is running for school board. Yes, you would love to get all the other moms of fourth graders to vote for you. But realistically, you will get more votes by going to your local senior home, the apartment building where all the seniors live. They vote.

Not to say you don’t go after the fourth grade moms too, but don’t forget who is likely to vote. You always want to be focused on in your spare time, when you are making phone calls, call those people who are likely to vote who you haven’t talked to.

John Tsarpalas: Right. You’ve sort of figured out who you are starting with. You’ve got your targets. You are going to start calling. You are going to start knocking.

So let’s take this back now. We talked about targeting. We talked about different levels. You had level one, level two. I think we said category one.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So you said you go to about twenty-five percent when you think you’ve about saturated. You’ve called and you’ve called and you’ve knocked and you’ve knocked. And you keep going.

How do you break this into smaller chunks? Figure out how many people you need to show up to vote or how many people you have on your list to target? Break it up into how many you have to do a day and how many you have to do a week? How do you look at it that way?

Kristina Keats: First off, you are looking at your entire database because you don’t care where your votes come from. You care what your total looks like.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Yeah, when you walk, you are going to walk a precinct. Walking is the only time that you have to break it up into a hunk because it is geographic and you can’t walk the whole town at once.

Your phone list can be everybody and you don’t care because you are just going to phone until you get people. And then you are going to talk to them.

You are going to know after you’ve met someone whether or not they are likely to vote for you. We’ll do a podcast on how you know. If you pay attention, it is easier than you think.

And it is how you ask your questions on the phone. We’ll talk about that in the scripts. The scripts that I worked with in the past, you can write the script in a way that you absolutely know yes or no if they are voting for you. You are keeping track and you should know whether they are for you or against you in your database.

Most states now have early voting. As you get close to the election and early voting starts, you are still out trying to contact people that you haven’t contacted already. But at that same point, you are going to start pushing your voters to go early and vote.

And in most places, you can get the data of who voted early. So every day you are going to know who has voted and you should know how you are doing by what percentage you have.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. If they said they are supporting you and they’ve shown up to vote, that’s probably a vote in the ballot box for you.

Kristina Keats: Right, you count it as one of your votes.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And you know who is against you because you should have some data on that. Then you know coming out of early voting where you stand.

In one local election that we ran, we had eighty percent of the early votes. We ended up winning by sixty percent, but it shows you how important pushing early voting was.

If we hadn’t been pushing early voting, we might have only won by fifty-five percent. We still were going to win because we were running a better campaign.

When I run campaigns, I like to not leave it to chance. I like to know who is voting for me and whether or not they voted.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I mean, you’ve always been able to track and predict. It is amazing the ability to predict a few days before where we are at, what you think. It is just amazing judging by the phone.

Kristina Keats: Right, and I am always conservative. So we always do better than I say.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: I had one candidate who I told, “You are at sixty-two percent.” He wanted to get the highest percentage ever in his district.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, right, greed.

Kristina Keats: That was his goal. He said, “That’s not good enough. I want more than sixty-two.” I said, “You are probably getting more than sixty-two. I never over predict. You are headed there.” But it was pretty funny. I think he got sixty-seven percent, which of course was the highest that had ever been achieved in his district so he was happy.

If you are doing it right, and I cannot emphasize enough to track your data, track your data, track your data…

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: Because if you don’t track your data, then you can just wander around the town asking for people to vote for you. What good does it do?

John Tsarpalas: Right. It’s not good.

Kristina Keats: It is not worthless. If you are going to run a campaign as opposed to just be in a campaign, you really want to run it, then you make it happen.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And you are in control.

Kristina Keats: You’re in control.

John Tsarpalas: So if you start off from the beginning setting up your plan and part of your plan is targeting who you are going to go after, look at these numbers and break out this data. Set up a plan for how many you need to do a week in advance so that you can reach the targeted goal at the end.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So break it into smaller chunks so you know. Recruit some volunteers to help you because it is probably going to be more people than you can do yourself.

Kristina Keats: Yes. We will talk about that more.

John Tsarpalas: We’ve got a whole podcast on volunteers and doing that.

Kristina Keats: Right. And one thing I want to say, when I say you’ve got saturation at twenty-five percent, that doesn’t mean you only talk to twenty-five percent. You have identified twenty-five percent and you got that twenty-five percent by talking to a hundred percent, or attempting it.

Because I don’t want people to think if there is a thousand voters, I only need to talk to two hundred and fifty. No!

John Tsarpalas: No, talk to a thousand.

Kristina Keats: You need to identify two hundred and fifty.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, right. Very good. I am glad you clarified that.

Kristina Keats: Right. So I think we have covered it.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I think this is important. Simple and basic, but important. I think the neophyte doesn’t realize who they should be talking to. It is so important that you are targeting those people who vote and who vote in that type of election. You are starting there.

Kristina Keats: And it can be overwhelming. If you take a typical school district with sixteen thousand voters, where would you start if you are going to try to reach all sixteen thousand? But the whole point is most of them are never going to vote.

A normal election with sixteen thousand voters might turn out fifteen hundred. I ran campaigns that because we were fighting the powers that be, we got ten thousand people to vote. So if you are creating controversy, more people will in fact vote.

Most of the time there is no controversy. We just had one here. We have eighteen thousand voters and twelve hundred voted. But you can see twelve hundred people. You don’t have to influence that many people to win!

John Tsarpalas: And can I just say you are talking about Texas. I want people to realize we are not limit. We talk a lot about Illinois because that is where we started. But I’ve done political work in Michigan, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. You are currently based in Texas, although I won’t go any further on where. It is a big state, so I think you are safe.

Kristina Keats: But the thing is what we are talking about is universal. Human behavior is universal. Someone who doesn’t vote when they are living in Illinois, when they move to Texas, guess what? They still don’t vote. And vice versa.

What was the first thing my husband and I did when we got here? We registered to vote. In fact, before that we were being specific about what kind of congressional district we wanted to live in.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Yes, we do go to that level. But that’s because we are obsessive about these things. This is what we do.

Kristina Keats: Well and it is important to us.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, it is.

Kristina Keats: So that’s what you have to understand. You have to work out. If you think in those concentric circles, in the middle is a very small group that are passionate about that. Since you are now running for office, you are in that very small circle.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats:  By definition, you are in that circle. Very small. Don’t make the mistake of extrapolating from yourself and thinking that people are like you, which is what I did when I first got into the political arena.

One of the things that I think John and I can both say is that everything we know we’ve learned by doing it wrong first. So we are trying to pass on to you the things that we’ve learned over almost twenty years of being actively involved in grassroots politics.

John Tsarpalas: Alright, well let’s leave them with that though. Go pick your targets and go get them. And thanks, Tina. We’ll talk again soon.

Kristina Keats: Okay, thanks. Bye-bye.

John Tsarpalas: Hope you enjoyed today’s talk about targeting voters. If you have any questions, feel free to write to me at You can also record a question on the Commonwealthy site. There is a little tab along the right hand side. Just click on it.

We would love to have a review on iTunes if you are using iTunes. It would really help build our rankings. Please pass on this podcast to any of your political friends. Let them know about it.

We have show notes and a transcript of the podcast on our website at In this podcast, Tina and I talked about scripts. How do you know if a voter is supporting you? Well, next week we are going to talk about scripts, writing them, testing them, and voter responses. So please tune in next week.

Thanks for listening!

Kristina Keats: People who are most likely to vote in the election that you are running for are the people who have voted in those elections in the past. So for example, if you are running for school board, the people who are most likely to vote in school board elections are the ones who have voted in school board elections past.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *