Strategic Communications: Grassroots Organizing and GOTV Efforts

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By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

An integral part of Saint Consulting’s land use expertise is the model it utilizes for strategic communications.  Along with providing its clients with strategic counsel on land use issues in general, the company recommends that real estate developers utilize grassroots advocacy to interact with residents as directly as possible during their education and outreach campaigns.

The old model for entitling real estate development projects consisted of developers selling the features and benefits of their projects through traditional public relations and marketing campaigns.  While there is a role for these communications methods, simply relying on this approach ignores a central fact in the entitlement process.  That is, land use decisions are political in nature.  Therefore, without demonstrating political support for your project your project is likely to fail.

Not only do we know from experience that grassroots advocacy works, this approach has been quantified by Yale researchers Donald Green and Alan Gerber.  Green and Gerber have published a book entitled “Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout” that quantifies various grassroots organizing techniques using a randomized experimental design.  Specifically, they look at the entire spectrum of GOTV efforts, from door-to-door canvassing to paid media appeals, and analyze the efficacy of each by comparing treatment groups to control groups.

Some of their findings might surprise you, some might not.  For instance, they found that in general door-to-door canvassing produces one vote for every 14 contacts; door hangers produce one vote for every 189 contacts; direct mail produces one vote for every 500 contacts; robo calls may have no effect at all (celebrity or no celebrity) and at best produce one vote per 1,000 contacts; commercial phone banks produce one vote per 180 contacts; and volunteer phone banks produce one vote per 38 contacts.

Though email efforts had negligible effects on voter registration and voter turnout, there is some promise for enhancing this medium.  In addition, Election Day festivals, voter seminars and paid media were shown to have positive impacts.  The book also measures the cost-effectiveness of each of these tactics and provides resources and models for conducting further experiments.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone (781) 749-7290 , 7701