Voter ID? There’s an app for that
If you’ve been out doorstep canvassing, the chances are you’ll have had someone ‘running the board’ – calling out the door numbers for people to knock on, and manually recording any information that’s passed back to them. You may also have experienced the wait on a corner while the sheets are reorganised, because ‘it’s quicker to do this side street before we carry on along the main road’.
If your local party is well organised, then this local knowledge will already be reflected in manually entered ‘road groups’ which means the sheets will print in the correct order.
When we joined the Obama campaign in Florida in 2008, we were working using similar paper lists. Four years later, we found campaign technology had radically changed the way things were done.
Think back a few years to the days when if you got lost, you needed to carry an A-Z map book or be prepared to ask a stranger for directions. Nowadays, smartphone technology means you can just open a GPS-powered map application and work out where you are.
Returning to Florida last year, we found ourselves working not just with campaign officials and party volunteers, but with a coalition of immigration reform campaigners and trade union activists, all working together using the Votebuilder app, which neatly combines a GPS map with a set of target addresses. This showed where the nearest doors to knock were, and, once you selected a household, it displayed the residents’ names, age and any registered party preference. It also included a script for the conversation and enabled you to enter the data as you made your way to the next door. This technology is all available to the canvasser via smartphones. With a recent 2013 Deloitte study showing that almost three-quarters of UK population now own a smartphone we should harness this technological opportunity. As the election drew closer we were even reminded to contact our Facebook friends to remind them to vote.
This approach eliminates the logistical need for someone to run the board. But at the same time it removes the gatekeeper who helps protect your data from contamination – for example, the all-too-common assumption that because one occupant of a house is a supporter, everyone who lives there votes the same way; or the tendency to misrecord a person who says they will be voting for our local candidate this time because they know him/her as a supporter of our party, which is not necessarily accurate. If adopting this kind of system, volunteers need to be trained to be more rigorous and less optimistic when recording data.
When a large group is canvassing together, having someone ‘on the board’ helps keep the group together and, almost as importantly, keeps things moving at a decent pace. In less densely populated areas, sending out a group is unlikely to create the visual impact that ‘blitzing’ a neighbourhood can have.
Back in the campaign office in Ybor City, Tampa, the same system was being used on desktop PCs to run a phone bank and it could be used to make calls from home too.
Using conventional paper-based phonebank lists, you tend to motivate yourself to finish ‘one more page’. One heartening aspect of this system was the on-screen progress bar that showed how many contacts you personally had made, and how the group was doing overall.
The Labour party has this ‘online phonebank’ technology in place but it is not sufficiently promoted. The regular emails we receive from the party are more likely to ask us to donate than to make 10 calls using the online phonebank.
We need to make full use of the latest campaign technology we have, and help our members get involved in campaigning in a way they can fit around their lives.
This is an area where the Labour party’s unique link with the trade unions may come into its own. There’s a debate right now about how the Labour party and trade union members can work together more meaningfully. We all know that a ‘save your local hospital’ campaign is generally more effective than a ‘stop NHS cuts’ campaign, or simply asking people to vote for us. Labour’s online Campaign Engine Room is a good start, because it allows members to generate their own campaigns.
Let’s take a leaf out of the Americans’ book – get party members, trade union members, public service workers and users all campaigning together on the issues that unite us.
Link together the tools that we have, make full use of them, and get more people involved and we can really get some traction. Labour needs to make full use of latest campaign technology if we are to win the battle for votes.
Chris Clark is a TSSA union representative and a Labour and Cooperative party councillor on Ashford council. He tweets @ChrisClarkKent. Rav Seeruthun was PPC for Maidstone and the Weald in 2010. Having previously worked as a GP in the NHS, he is a consultant in pharmaceutical medicine and is currently a senior director in a company running clinical trials. He tweets @RavSeeruthun
Barack Obama, campaigning, Labour, United States