Barack Obama’s presidential bid for a second term may be over and won, but for the thousands of supporters, their work is not done. Building on “the biggest grassroots campaign in modern American political history,” those volunteers will continue working to see the agenda they voted for put into play, according to Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager.
“People spent five years winning two presidential elections together. They are now not going to walk away and not help him become the change they want to see,” Messina told a forum organized by Politico, a D.C.-based website and publication focused on politics.
One week after the election, the Obama for America campaign sent out emails requesting that supporters do a survey on what they would like to focus on during post-election.
Their response was evident in a subsequent email outlining the president’s priorities for dealing with the fiscal cliff.
“Thanks to your feedback, we’re taking immediate action on one of your suggestions: keeping you informed about how the president is fighting for you so you can continue to talk to your friends, family, and neighbors,” an email read.
Messina said that we can expect to see more. “We know people want to be involved in supporting the president in his agenda. How that looks we need to discuss with grassroots,” he said.
Obama gained 332 electoral votes to win his second term, which was well more than Romney’s 206 electoral votes. Significantly, he also won, albeit narrowly, eight out of the nine battleground states and became the first Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to gain 50 percent of the vote twice.
While Messina is adamant that the success was because of their candidate, he conceded that the campaign mobilized people to vote and that it facilitated the reach of Obama’s message.
“We built the kind of campaign that made people want to volunteer and made people want to support the president,” he said.
The Obama campaign in 2008 was radical in coordinating thousands of supporters and grass-roots organizations while raising millions of dollars from small donors through online giving. But it had been largely exploratory, according to Messina.
“People spent five years winning two presidential elections together. They are now not going to walk away and not help him become the change they want to see.”
—Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager
“In 2008, we had two campaigns: a door-knocking campaign that was sophisticated and amazing,” and “an online viral thing, which in many ways we didn’t control,” he said.
In 2012, they kept the grass-roots approach, fielding 100 offices and over 30,000 team leaders across the country, but this time they were more strategically placed with many focused specifically on the nine battleground states. At the same time, they expanded the technology front.
A technologically savvy team was set up in Chicago 18 months before the election. Data gathering and analysis became key as did new software designed by the team, which enabled the campaign to identify voters and key constituencies, among which were youth, women, African-Americans, and Hispanics.
“We then spent a whole bunch of time messaging specifically to them,” Messina said.
This year, although slightly down from 2008, Obama won 93 percent of the African-American vote, 55 percent of the women’s vote, and 60 percent of votes between ages 18–29, according to exit polls compiled by the Pew Research Center. He also won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, which was up four points from 2008.
Two software programs designed by the team became critical: targeted sharing and dashboard.
Targeted sharing enabled the campaign to link a supporters’ Facebook friends list with the campaign’s information about those friends. The campaign could then calculate what specific content would be most appealing and direct that via newsfeeds, the campaign, and Facebook posts.
The campaign contacted over 5 million people over Facebook, according to Messina, and he noted how much more effective information is when delivered via friends.
“Over half the people we asked did it and over 80 percent of those followed all the way through to make sure their friends did something,” Messina said.
Dashboard, a Web application downloadable to smartphones or tablets, revolutionized the efficiency of the grass-roots operation.
Not only did it enable volunteers to locate field workers and organize online meetings quickly, but it also linked them to the campaign database. There they could access relevant public information like party registration and voting history as well as data gleaned by the campaign from social media.
According to Messina, the campaign held over 350,000 dashboard events in the months leading up to the election.
“Supporters are now keen to apply these campaign tools to support Obama in his second term,” he said.
“You could easily see people using Dashboard to say, OK, I want to talk about the choices ahead of us in the fiscal cliff [debate], and I want to start organizing my friends,” said Messina, “Dashboard would be very easy to start a group.”
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