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Help for Activists and Operatives on the Frontlines
Here are some resources for people trying to win this election at all levels
The idea that everyone can be a messenger is the animating principle of this newsletter (and my most recent book). Democrats need to treat our grassroots base as more than telemarketers and ATMs. A progressive, grassroots megaphone is the only way we can compete against Fox News, Facebook, and the MAGA media. Several grassroots organizations like Demcast and Civic Power of Change have taken up the mantle. The DNC recently launched a social ambassador program that puts this vision in place. But every day, I hear from Message Box readers in all levels of politics looking for resources on messaging and communications strategy. Most activists and campaign operatives working on local races have limited access to polling and strategic advice. Filling that need is why I started Message Box. I thought it would be helpful to compile accessible resources for understanding the political environment and developing political and messaging strategies.
Understanding the Electorate
Opinion research comes in two forms. Quantitative, aka polls, and qualitative, aka focus groups. Smart political operatives use a blend of both to understand the political environment where the campaign is taking place.
Anyone on the Internet can access more polling information than could be consumed in two lifetimes. The problem is that most of it is garbage. Even the higher-quality polls conducted by media organizations provide little actionable data. And despite historic polling errors in recent elections, most of the media refuses to invest in focus groups as a way to understand the electorate.
Navigator Research is a project led by Democratic pollsters Margie Omero and Nick Gourevitch that puts out a regular cadence of research to inform Democratic messaging. I am subscribed to their email updates, and find their work to be invaluable.
Data for Progress is a progressive think tank that conducts polling on day-to-day issues.
A Latino-focused polling firm, Equis Research, started by two of my former Obama colleagues, does some of the best, most insightful work in the industry. For example, they recently released this analysis of the Latino headed into the midterms.
Unlike polls, focus groups provide a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how voters consume and interpret political messaging. I highly recommend two podcasts. The first is The Wilderness by Jon Favreau, my Crooked Media colleague and good friend. For season three, which was recently released, Jon conducted focus groups with the most important voter cohorts in the top battleground states. The Wilderness provides a window into how voters think, which belies the vapid pundit observations on Twitter and cable (televised Twitter). The second podcast is from Sarah Longwell, the Never Trump Republican strategist and publisher at the Bulwark. The Focus Group Podcast features conversations with strategists centered around focus groups with persuadable voters in all of the key states. Both of these focus groups provide access to the information that professional political operatives use to make key decisions on strategy and messaging.
What to Say and Do
Understanding the electorate is only the first step. Here are some of the places I turn to for messaging advice, strategic insights, and ideas for activism:
FWIW: This newsletter provides an invaluable analysis of digital communications, including ad-spending and what content and candidates are generating engagement.
Anat Shenker-Osorio: Frequently described as a “messaging guru,” Anat is one of the most innovative and thoughtful communications thinkers. Her Twitter feed is full of good advice on how (and how not) to message on challenging issues in a campaign.
Vote Save America: In my not-so-unbiased opinion, there is no better resource to find out how to make the best investment of your time and money in building sustainable progressive power.
Chop Wood, Carry Water: Activist Jessica Craven writes a daily newsletter that tells you how “you can make a difference in your democracy (and elect more progressives!) by taking 5-7 minutes worth of EASY actions.”
CAP Action: The folks at the Center for American Progress Action Fund are a fount of shareable, message-tested content for activists to use with their networks.
DemCast: This is an organization that is building the grassroots messaging operation that I frequently argue for in this newsletter. They are a great resource for messaging and content.
This is only a sampling of possible sources; please leave other ideas in the comments for members of the Message Box community.