Report: Which Advocacy Tactics Work in U.S. Elections

Report: Which Advocacy Tactics Work in U.S. Elections

One of the strange truths of the advocacy world is that every organization is an island. Advocacy professionals working for corporations, trade associations or nonprofits rarely hear what their colleagues are doing to effectively engage an audience and move them to action. That’s why we created Benchmarking the Ballot BoxIt’s a report conducted by 720 Strategies and the Public Affairs Council, which surveyed dozens of advocacy professionals about the tactics they used in this year’s election, how these tactics performed and where they plan to invest time, money and resources in the future.

The result is a report you can use to benchmark your organization’s efforts and its performance as you begin to plan for 2019 and the presidential election beyond.

The Most Effective Tactics

For example, here are some of the most effective tactics in the 2018 election, according to survey respondents. Note that all relate to civic participation and get-out-the-vote efforts, which often work well for companies and associations who want to participate without getting overtly political. 

  • Candidate Visits. More than half the professionals surveyed (53%) said that having a candidate visit their organization was effective, and it’s easy to see why. Candidates foster engagement and participation in a presentation that many groups will find educational. It’s an easy — and more personable — way to connect an audience to the election in an elevated way. 
  • Voter Registration Websites. This was another favorite, with 40% saying that establishing a site to help voters register was effective. For employees, members and others in your audience, it can be seen as a convenience and a service. 
  • Voter Registration Events. Events to help voters get registered was rated as effective by 37% of respondents, and this too makes sense. These events, whether combined with speakers or not, make it easy for an audience to prepare for their participation in the election. This was the tactic that grew the most in 2018, rising by 12 percentage points. 

While support for some digital tactics fell when respondents were asked what they will invest in moving forward, support for these three tactics — all of which are relationship-based — held steady, with a third or more saying they will use them in the future.

Of course, “workhorse” tools like email were well used in the 2018 election, with 64% saying they supported a program. But far fewer (only 32%) rated it as effective, and just 25% said it would work well in coming elections. Social media performed similarly, with 46% saying they used these channels, and only 35% saying they were effective. Fewer than a third (28%) said they would be so moving forward.

Interestingly, cutting-edge tools like text messaging, which has sky-high open rates but risks annoying an audience, were not embraced. Only 13% said they used these tools, and only 17% said they were effective. Future interest was low.

One important note: the use of Political Action Committees (PACs) was ubiquitous at 86%. While it could be argued whether a PAC is a tactic, with the outcome depending on the PAC’s activities, it has been universally embraced as a tool.

Tactics Getting Left Behind

Just as important as what advocacy pros are embracing is what is falling out of favor. As might be expected, this list is made up of tactics that might be considered old economy. Here are some examples. 

  • Rides to Polling Places. Only 8% of respondents said that arranging transportation to the polls was effective, and only 7% said it would be a solid tactic in future elections. 
  • Candidate Surveys. Only 10% rated this as effective, and only 8% said it would be so moving forward. 
  • Direct Mail. Long an effective tactic for many advocacy pros, only 22% rated direct mail as effective in the 2018 election. Substantially, support fell to 15% in the future. 
  • Print Collateral. Similarly, and perhaps predictably, only 20% rate print as effective, falling to 13% in the future. 

To see more insights from Benchmarking the Ballot Boxemail us and we’ll provide you a copy.