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Complete Guide To Political Campaigning

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Complete guide to Get Out the Vote (GOTV) strategies and tactics for political campaigns

The final days of elections are when everyone fights for the most important thing: voter turnout. It all comes down to this; everyone involved in elections is doing everything possible to mobilize voters. 

Once a political campaign enters its final phase, campaign leaders focus on getting people to vote for their candidate. The emphasis is no longer on finding people who merely support the campaign but rather on getting those supporters to vote!

If planned and executed properly, your GOTV activities are the final piece of the puzzle that a political campaign needs to be successful. And in this introductory guide, we cover what GOTV is, how it works, and some practical tips you can use to improve your next political campaign.

What is Get Out The Vote (GOTV)?

GOTV refers to all campaign activities that aim to mobilize voters to vote. It usually starts two to three weeks before the election day (sometimes even sooner, depending on early voting schedules), and its goal is to push known supporters to vote.

Political parties usually split their campaigns into different phases. Typically, the longest political campaign period is called the persuasion phase, during which campaign communications need to build infrastructure, implement a volunteer program and persuade people to support their candidate.

Once the persuasion phase of a campaign is finished, the GOTV period starts, and campaigns call on supporters to take action and vote. Successful GOTV programs require a lot of work, including GOTV planning, volunteer recruitment and management, tools and infrastructure development, call scripts, communication channels, and much more.

GOTV is the final phase of political races

Before planning a GOTV campaign, you must do the math and carefully calculate how many people are a part of your potential voting universe, often called the GOTV universe.

Who can perform GOTV activities?

GOTV activities are usually done by partisan and nonpartisan groups alike.

Partisan groups are closely connected to a political party and actively engage supporters to vote for their cause and preferred candidate. Examples of partisan organizations include election campaigns, political action committees, or any organization supporting a specific issue or candidate up for election.

Nonpartisan organizations are mainly interested in getting people to vote without preferring a specific candidate or party. Nonpartisan efforts are focused entirely on promoting the act of voting, voter registration, and general civic engagement activities.

Nonpartisan organizations, such as nonprofits, are defined by the law as 501(c)(3) organizations. They aren’t allowed to be biased and must comply with federal and state tax and campaign laws. Activities that provide election information, voting encouragement, and early voting are fine. However, any recommendation, suggestion, support, or connection to candidate activities is forbidden.

In this article, we are focusing on the GOTV activities performed by partisan groups and campaign staff.

What is GOTV Universe?

GOTV universe refers to the number of people your campaign needs to reach to reach your vote goal. Or, in other words, the number of people you will need to win the election. 

Get out the vote (GOTV) universe and its main elements

The early stages of campaigns focus on all potential supporters. Activities in the early stages aim to convince people to support your candidate over others. The people included in this early stage are often called the Persuasion universe. 

GOTV universe consists of people that you believe are your supporters. These people make up your base or have historically voted for candidates in your party.

Once the campaign enters the final stage, the GOTV phase, all the information (such as supporters’ identity) gathered during the early campaign stages will be used to define a GOTV universe. And all that information is critical to get people to the polls. While the main goal of GOTV is to mobilize known supporters, you can continue with persuasion efforts. Especially if your projections show you are coming up short on election day.

In short, you will want to think of these critical questions as you enter the GOTV phase:

  • How many supporters do you have at the moment?
  • Is that number large enough to win the election?
  • Do you need to continue persuasion efforts?

After you define your GOTV universe, you will most likely be able to prepare your supporters’ list and classify them into these common categories:

  • Strong and likely supporter
  • Undecided person
  • Probably not voting for your candidate
  • Strongly not supporting your candidate 

While we won’t go into detail on how to calculate your GOTV universe precisely, we do recommend a simple calculation that shows:

  • Vote goal estimate and turnout estimation
  • Number of identified supporters in the GOTV universe
  • Number of high-frequency base voters (most loyal voter types)
  • Number of supporters in each of the categories mentioned above

Once you have defined your GOTV universe, it is time to move to the next phase: GOTV planning.

Planning of activities

Once you have defined your total GOTV voting potential or GOTV universe, you should create an action plan describing your field actions and everything you have to work on through election day.

GOTV efforts revolve mostly around voter outreach and providing election information. All the activities you performed in the earlier stages of your campaign will remain mostly the same. However, the messages you communicate change, and you must share specific information with voters.

With that in mind, your supporters will typically need to know the following information to be able to vote:

  • When can they vote
  • How can they vote
  • Where can they vote
  • What they need when voting (e.g., driver’s license, registration information, etc.)
  • Why they need to vote for your candidate (in case your supporters need additional persuasion)

Voter data management

Before writing your plan, you need to make sure that you have all the tools and processes in place that are necessary to capture and manage your voter data. You will need to know the following: 

  • which potential supporters need additional persuasion
  • which of your voters need a simple reminder to vote
  • How many people have already voted or have a plan to

For instance, if someone has voted, you should be able to get this information from local election authority organizations. Knowing who already voted will help you track progress and keep contacting only the people who still haven’t voted. 

We can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to pay attention to this data. And when millions of potential voters move from one phase to another, it is easy to get lost if you don’t track the voting data properly from the start.

When to start recruiting volunteers for GOTV 

The success of any political campaign relies on volunteer power. Recruiting, managing, and motivating volunteers are essential skills you must work out carefully in the GOTV plan.

At the very latest, the volunteer recruitment for GOTV should start around 4 weeks before voting. You need to do the math and calculate how many volunteers you need for each GOTV tactic to contact supporters and reach your GOTV goals.

While it is hard to determine the exact number of volunteers you need, we suggest coming out with the initial numbers first and then working from there. For instance, you might estimate you can make 25 calls and visit 20 homes per hour. When the field operations start, you can update these numbers based on the results you receive and how much they contribute to the formal goal.

The volunteer capacity will need to increase as you enter the last two weeks before the election day and then at least double for the final four days of GOTV. Things can easily become chaotic, and volunteers might need to learn how much they need to step in. Because of that, real-time monitoring can be helpful (e.g., big screens showing key volunteering performance indicators).

Writing a GOTV plan

The GOTV plan that you write will be the basis for field activities. You will need to think of multiple elements, such as the language you will use when talking to people, call script types, voting options (we are coming to this later in the text), and tactics. 

Also, you must regularly check how you are doing against your daily goals and how much time you need to reach your GOTV targets.

Let’s quickly share the most important elements that a GOTV plan should include:

  1. Voter classifications – How many voters in your universe are registered Democrat, Republican, or unaffiliated? And what does their voting history look like? Are they frequent or infrequent voters? Do they vote for a single party down the ballot or qualify as a split ballot voter? 
  2. What are voting directions required for different voting types based on the options allowed in a state? Those directions can then be integrated into your communication channels and shared with volunteers.
  3. Which GOTV tactics will you use (e.g., phone banking, canvassing, online ads, etc.)
  4. Decide which voting area should use which type of GOTV tactic.
  5. How many volunteers will you need to implement field activities?
  6. Volunteer recruiting and management plan
  7. Define the types of scripts you will need and who will write them.
  8. Plan how much print and other materials you will need for direct and personal communication activities.
  9. Have a campaign calendar that helps you assign your main efforts to different dates, areas, etc.

Of course, GOTV plans usually go into more detail. Nevertheless, having a simple list of the most important elements, similar to what we outline here, is a good starting point. 

GOTV tactics and methods 

Ideally, your plan should outline GOTV tactics and methods to reach your supporters and help persuade undecided voters. But how do you know which tactics will drive the most voter turnout?

What’s important to keep in mind is that you will always have limited resources. Depending on your situation, when you enter the GOTV phase, you will have to adapt your GOTV tactics.

Say you have many people in your GOTV universe that still need to be persuaded to support your candidate. Since persuasion activities are much harder to achieve using social media and ads, it would make more sense to focus your efforts on canvassing and phone banking. And once you reach the final part of the GOTV phase, you can maximize all your GOTV efforts toward getting people to the polls.

Let’s look at the most common methods you can use to achieve your GOTV goals.

There are many methods you can use to encourage people to vote. While there isn’t a definitive list of the most and least effective ways, we know from field experiments and research that some things work better than others. 

With that in mind, here are the most popular GOTV tactics that have the biggest impact on voter turnout:

  1. Direct mailing and social pressure
  2. Online campaigns and ads toward younger audience 
  3. Door-to-door volunteer canvassing
  4. Text messages directly before the election day
  5. Phone banking campaigns
  6. Radio ads
  7. Print materials and leaflets

Let’s quickly examine each of these tactics.

Direct mailing and social pressure

Direct mail is not the most effective GOTV tactic on its own. However, it becomes one of the most impactful methods for increasing voter turnout when combined with social pressure.

GOTV direct mail efforts are often most successful when potential voters are told that others will ask them whether they’ve voted. In other words, voting is seen as a social expectation, and people are more likely to vote if they feel like they’ll be letting someone down if they don’t.

Researchers have found that informing voters that turnout is expected to be high increases voter turnout. On the other hand, predicting lower turnouts results in fewer voters. Combining social pressure and direct mail is very powerful since individuals want to be seen as good citizens.

So if you use direct mail to announce that someone in your neighborhood plans to vote, or if you show statistics that state the percentage of people who have already voted, you have a good chance of increasing voter turnout.

Direct mail for political campaigns

Online GOTV campaigns and ads aimed towards younger audience 

For obvious reasons, targeting younger audiences has been a focus of political campaign managers. People in their early 20s haven’t been exposed to many political campaigns. They are still forming their opinion, which makes them easier to persuade than an older person with firm beliefs and a voting pattern to uphold.

Young voters often consume much more online social media and apps, which gives a lot of opportunities for targeting with things like Facebook and Twitter ads. Social media also allows us to exert social pressure since it is very easy to share key messages among different groups quickly. 

While direct mail still works great, it can’t measure, with the same precision, the targeted reach that online ads and social media allow.

Door-to-door volunteer canvassing

Canvassing refers to going door-to-door in a neighborhood and conversing about important issues with community members. By canvassing, you reach out to voters and discuss the issues that matter to them. At the same time, it is a highly effective way to spread political messages and recruit new volunteers.

Together with phone banking, canvassing is among the most effective field tactics. However, it is time-consuming and doesn’t allow you to cover huge areas unless you have a large volunteer network.

Since GOTV needs to be very targeted and aimed at supporters, so does the canvassing. Door-to-door canvassing is effective because it allows volunteers to run meaningful conversions in a quiet environment, so you shouldn’t use canvassing for areas where many people circulate.

Door-to-door canvassing is still a great field tactic in political campaigns
Door-to-door canvassing is still a great field tactic in political campaigns

Text messaging

Texting is another powerful GOTV tactic, especially because it can be done at scale and to communicate one particular element through your messages.

Some texting types require opt-in, such as broadcast texting, which means you must get people to opt-in well before the GOTV stage. On the other hand, peer-to-peer texting (or P2P) doesn’t require opt-in and is compliant with US laws. It can be launched whenever you want, which makes it a good option for GOTV activities. 

Overall, texting is a quick, low-cost tactic to remind supporters to vote. The personalization factor of text messaging makes it great to use during the early voting periods and election day.

Phone banking activities

Phone banking is another effective field tactic that allows you to reach many people quickly. Volunteers use it a lot during the GOTV period, and it can reach hundreds and thousands of people each day.

Although phone banking can be used for multiple purposes, its goal during GOTV is to remind your supporters that they must vote and how, when, and where to vote. Because these calls are typically short and simple (usually around 30 seconds long), they significantly impact voter turnout.

And when phone banking is combined with predictive dialer technology, campaign supervisors can maximize their calling efforts. Predictive dialers enable you to talk to real people and not waste time on answering machines while optimizing time spent on the system.

Sample phone script loaded into the Hubdialer's platform
Sample phone script loaded into the Hubdialer’s platform

Radio ads

Radio ads are still a popular GOTV tactic. While they may not effectively remind people to vote on election day, the radio ads can be an important part of spreading the message during the GOTV period.

With so many people commuting to work every day, radio ads can still have value and should be a part of your GOTV marketing mix.

Print materials and leaflets

While technology allows us to replace traditional political tactics with online channels, print materials, and leaflets are still very valuable for GOTV.

Brochures, leaflets, and stickers can be effectively used at high-traffic places and where people usually pass by (e.g., streets). 

And when you do door-to-door canvassing, it is always good to have your most important messages written on paper that potential supporters can read after you leave. Even if people are not home, you can leave the print materials on doorsteps or in their mailboxes.

Print materials for GOTV during political campaigns
Print materials for GOTV can have a big impact during any political campaign

Summary on GOTV tactics

There are many tactics that you can use for your GOTV activities. Choosing the right set of tactics that work in the right context and at the right time matters.

If you focus on areas where your supporters live close to each other, canvassing will be a good and effective option. On the other hand, if your voters live in less populated areas, phone banking will be a better way to reach out to them.

Whatever tactics you plan to use, choose those that are the most efficient and include them in your GOTV plan early on.

Typical GOTV scripts every campaign needs 

GOTV scripts are essential documents your volunteers must use on different occasions and channels. 

The scripts you use during the GOTV period follow the same logic as your GOTV plan. The main goal is to provide voting information to your supporters. However, if you need to continue with the persuasion activities when talking to people who are still undecided, you will need to modify the messaging.

Because political campaigns often conduct GOTV and persuasion activities simultaneously, the campaign staff has to ensure their messages reach the right audience. As a result, you will need to use different scripts when communicating with other voters.

Let’s quickly look at two different types of scripts you will use during GOTV.

  • Canvassing scripts – you can use this type of script to convey different messages. A typical use case scenario is using the script to motivate supporters and loyal voters to vote early. If the voters cannot vote early, the volunteers can switch to the part that provides more information on voting on election day.
  • Phone banking scripts – similar to canvassing scripts, you can target your base voters and/or undecided voters. For instance, early voting scripts will ask supporters to vote early. The other option is to focus on mail-in and in-person voting and provide information on how to do that.

Writing GOTV scripts is a skill that every political campaign needs to develop. A good script must encourage conversations. It also must help volunteers share the information with the supporters or change voters’ opinions.

And as mentioned a couple of times in this article, GOTV messages need to communicate a few main elements – the candidate the voters are voting for, the best way for them to vote, and the all-important election date!

Implementation process and timeline 

The GOTV period is the final period before election day. Its purpose is to mobilize identified and predicted supporters to vote and focus solely on voter contact. GOTV is essential to ensure your supporters get to the polls and cast their ballots.

Since GOTV is extremely important for a campaign’s success, all the efforts become intense, and the whole campaign team works even harder to ensure people go vote. And all the plans you have written come down to this vital period.

If you want to plan a proper timeline before and during the GOTV period, you might be asking yourself:

  • When do you start preparing for GOTV?
  • What do you need to include in the period before GOTV?
  • When do you begin with GOTV activities?
GOTV process and timeline before election day
GOTV process and timeline before election day

Let’s look at a typical scenario and what the last campaign weeks usually look like.

Campaign activities prior to GOTV start

A good time to prepare for your GOTV is approximately 8 weeks before the election day. During this period, you should define and implement specific actions that move your campaign one step closer to the final goal.

Here is what these last weeks normally look like.

8 weeks before the election day

This week you should look at the information and data you have collected. The campaign staff should know how you are progressing and check the following:

  • The number of identified supporters the campaign has and how they compare to the total needed to win
  • Number of mobilized voters and how many of them are infrequent and low-frequency voters
  • How many people will vote, that is, what kind of voting method will they use

This information will help you define your total GOTV potential or GOTV universe. 

5 weeks before the election day

This week you should be able to:

  • Identify your message that will tell people why they need to vote for your candidate or to vote in general
  • Know how much time you will need for each activity and budget requirements
  • Define GOTV channels that you will use 
  • Identify your current supporters and leave out those who won’t support your candidate or won’t vote at all

4 weeks before the election day

In this period, you can expect things to start heating up. Your eyes will be on the following items:

  • Documenting voting dates, deadlines, voting locations, IDs required, and state voting rules
  • Preparing GOTV material
  • Contacting the supporters to remind them to vote and provide information on voting methods. And you will continue with persuasion activities when talking to swing voters and persuade them to vote for your candidate.

You should have finished building your GOTV universe and know how many volunteers you need and which organizations you need to involve. The most demanding GOTV tactics, like canvassing, must come first, while phone banking and text messaging can be left for the final period.

When to start with GOTV activities

When voting was limited to election day only, GOTV tactics wouldn’t take more than a week. However, new laws allow different voting methods, which expands the voting window and makes planning more complicated.

Different states have different voting rules. Be sure to check your state’s policy on::

  • In-person early voting
  • Absentee voting
  • Mail in the vote (including ballot dropbox deadlines)
  • Traditional in-person voting on election day

Simply put, the start of GOTV will depend on your current progress and the advanced voting options in your target states. 

We recommend starting 2-3 weeks before the election day and focusing on the following activities. 

3 weeks before the election day

It would be best to start implementing the GOTV activities you defined in your GOTV plan. You need to contact supporters again to remind them about early voting possibilities, and if they have registered for voting in case they are absent.

You will also need to give it one more try to the swing voters. If you can’t persuade them to support your candidate, remove them from your contact list and not count on their votes.

2 weeks before the election day

The time has come to ensure everything goes according to plan in the final days. Everyone is focused on mobilizing supporters and volunteers only reach out to confirmed supporters.

You aim to provide general information on the voting location and how and when to get there.

This week you will also start with so-called “dry runs.” Dry runs refer to the time you must run through the GOTV plan to test and increase direct voter contact. Normally, GOTV efforts contain two dry runs before reaching the campaign’s final four days and cover the entire GOTV universe 2 times.

4 days before the election day

Often called the “final four days,” the last four days are the most intense campaign days. You already went through your entire GOTV universe twice, and you will have to go two more times in the final days before election day.

Your volunteers will rely heavily on phone banking and texting to provide supporters with voting and transportation details. 

Election day actions 

GOTV activities are still active on election day. Your campaign staff and volunteers must continue contacting voters and supporters until the polls close.

All your communication channels must remind voters that today is the most important day. The main message needs to be to go and vote while maintaining high enthusiasm.

Typical channels used on election day include phone banking, texting, social media messaging, and even canvassing in densely populated areas. The key is to keep activities going throughout the day.

The content of your message needs to focus on the vital elements:

  • When you can vote
  • Where you can vote
  • The documents voters need when going to vote

Even though you have already contacted your complete GOTV list before, you should continue texting and calling all these contacts again. While getting your supporters, you need to track if someone voted and note it down. Knowing who already voted will save you time for the rest of the day.

Ensure your GOTV works

GOTV is the most intense period of any campaign. To make sure your voters cast their ballot for your candidate, you need to understand how GOTV works. After that, you must build your GOTV universe and lay out a well-thought-out GOTV plan that defines key channels, tactics, scripts, timelines, and other vital elements.

If there is one aspect that you need to master, it is the GOTV plan. To wrap up this guide with a couple of more tips for GOTV planning, we suggest you:

  • Determine your GOTV timeline by working backward from election day.
  • Define your goals precisely. Yes, you want to win the election, but you must outline micro achievements and team goals and establish measurement and goal monitoring throughout the GOTV period.
  • Remember to consider the importance of training. You will need multiple training types – for teams, campaign leaders, volunteers, and anyone else involved in the campaign.
  • Have a proper data collection and research process in place. Collect the correct voter data to know how you’re progressing, and conduct research, so your supervisors and volunteer leaders have the right information.

We hope this detailed guide will inspire your future GOTV activities, regardless of the scope and size of your campaign. And when you’re ready to reach out to your supporters effectively, sign up for Hubdialer’s predictive dialer platform.

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