Australian campaigner and political consultant Bruce Hawker has been over in the US observing their election. Given his experience, and firm grasp of the differences between the Australian and American systems, he has some interesting insights. He’s writing a series of blog posts about his trip, the first of which went up today. I found this particularly exciting:
Anything that could be measured or analysed was put under the microscope. This, he said, was the big development made by the 2012 campaign. Messina told the conference that his camp spent $100 million on technology alone. That’s what you can do when you have more than a billion dollars to spend. In fact total spending by both parties and Political Action Groups (PACs) over the last two years is estimated at $6 billion.
A few people have sent me this very thorough article from Ars Technica about the total failure of the IT platform that the Romney campaign built (and would have spent millions of dollars developing) as the main tool for their get out the vote (GOTV) effort.
Called “Orca,” the effort was supposed to give the Romney campaign its own analytics on what was happening at polling places and to help the campaign direct get-out-the-vote efforts in the key battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Colorado.
Instead, volunteers couldn’t get the system to work from the field in many states—in some cases because they had been given the wrong login information. The system crashed repeatedly. At one point, the network connection to the Romney campaign’s headquarters went down because Internet provider Comcast reportedly thought the traffic was caused by a denial of service attack.
As one Orca user described it to Ars, the entire episode was a “huge clusterfuck.”
The article goes in depth into some of the many failures of the project. Bad planning, testing, implementation and user training are all abundantly clear.
However, from my perspective, the attached video interview with Romney Communications Director Gail Gitcho (see below) is far more interesting. Given, this was a pre-election interview, and she is obviously trying to over-hype their capabilities and seem more tech-savvy than they may actually be (of course, we’ll never know how tech savvy the Romney campaign was, but the Ars Technica article is fairly damning).
I fundamentally think their GOTV strategy is wrong. They don’t get it. I’ll leave it for you to draw your own conclusions, but enjoy watching the interview…
Update: One point I forgot to mention, was that I really hope that the failure of Project Orca doesn’t become a scapegoat for the entire campaign. There was a lot that went wrong for Romney, a fair amount of which was totally outside of his control. Having worked in IT, I know what projects like this can be like, and I know how easy it will be for some to sling blame at the IT team.
The US election is always a sight to behold, and this week was no different. To be honest, you shouldn’t expect anything less from the most expensive election in human history, with over US$4b spent!
Mark Ferguson at the British website LabourList has written a list of five lessons that Labour can take from the Obama victory. While our MMP system means that we need to have a nationwide focus, and can’t simply pump all our energy into marginal areas as they do in the UK and US, I believe there are quite a few similarities between the lessons Ferguson has identified and the New Zealand situation. I highly recommend you read the full article, but for now, here are his five lessons:
1. Polling works
The first point, polling works, is never going to win an election in New Zealand, but it certainly can help. Unlike in the UK and the US where polling is used to identify marginal areas and the issues important to them, electorate level polling is a far less important tool in MMP situations.
2. GOTV works
The failure of Romney’s GOTV effort is an interesting one, and I may write about that more in depth in future. In any country where turnout is gradually decreasing, smart GOTV efforts can make all the difference. Of course, this won’t be an issue any of my Australian colleagues will take any notice of!
3. The ground war beat the air war
Here Ferguson is advocating for the effort of volunteers on the ground as opposed to fancy television ads. With our very regimented campaign broadcasting system (and the accompanying public funding), we have a far “fairer” system. Which means that by default, the “ground war” is always going to be vitally important. What form that takes is a matter for debate.
4. The debates matter (but not too much)
This should be a point that few New Zealanders would challenge. In 2002 the polling worm essentially got Peter Dunne back into Parliament with a menagerie of United Future MPs who would have never thought they actually had a future in Parliament just a month earlier. Ultimately it didn’t change the composition of the government – but it did effect the race in a noticeable way.
5. The government doesn’t always lose when the economy is in a mess
This is going to be something the Labour Party in 2014 pays attention to. We can’t simply rely on National’s economic mismanagement to get us over the line.
Labor lost in the Northern Territory. I haven’t followed the election closely, so I’m not going to to speculate. However, I was reminded of this passage from the brilliant book by Christine Jackman, ‘Inside Kevin07‘:
But one should never underestimate the Northern Territory when it comes to originality. Out of the blue, Gartrell received an email from the NT’s Labor secretary, George Addison. ‘What if someone writes or paints a political slogan on an animal, say a pig or a cow? The animal is then tethered on private property – though clearly visible to voters entering a booth,’ Addison had written before adding, almost as an afterthought: ‘I would suspect this question is restricted to the NT.’
(Many thanks to Jonathan Williams for helping me locate the passage as my copy of the book has gone missing)
The Heffron by-election was a much better result. It was the seat of former premier Kristina Keneally, in a state where Labor is still well behind in the polls. The Liberals chose not to stand a candidate, presumably for the same reasons they kept out of the Melbourne by-election, almost handing the traditional Labor stronghold to the Greens. However, in this case the strategy totally backfired, with Keneally’s successor, Ron Hoenig, crushing the Greens with a massive 70.6% of the two-party preferred vote. The Liberals and Greens will both have a lot of thinking to do.
In my post late last night, I said that the regional hubs might be a good idea, but they are a structural solution that probably won’t, in of themselves, solve our struggles with the party vote.
One of the ways that we can improve this is by training our members about how to run a better campaign. I’ve heard many times about gripes about how one campaign or other didn’t do well enough at getting party votes, part of the problem is likely to be that no one ever told them how.
An idea that I’ve seen thanks to Progress is the concept of a ‘University of Labour’. From Progress…
Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol has made clear that Labour can’t win using ‘the old playbook’. But what will replace it? An essential part of the new playbook should be the training programme Labour has for its members. A new training programme should build on the strengths of the current ‘Train to Win‘ programme and become an accredited, effective and meaningful ‘University for Labour’ that is accessible to every party member.
We know that a well-trained volunteer is far better prepared for the rough and tumble of party activism than one with minimal to no ongoing training. Therefore, the new University for Labour should make its mission the creation of well-trained volunteers at the variety of levels required to win elections. By engaging its diverse membership, Labour can drive innovative and forward thinking approaches to community organising, grassroots recruitment, fundraising, campaigning, policy analysis and speech writing.
Now, this is not a totally new idea. In early 2011 Labour held a candidate and campaign managers conference, and in a couple of weeks time Young Labour are hosting their first ever campaign leadership school. It’s probably also too late to get a University of Labour, or similar, included in the organisation review, but given that it wouldn’t take any rule changes to implement the basic concept, that certainly doesn’t have to be a show stopper.
At the end of the day, if we want to run better party vote campaigns (and electorate, and local government), the first step has to be making sure that our members have the skills to do so. And that is a project I would love to be a part of.
I’ve been to several last minute meetings about Labour’s Organisational Review recently, it’s now something I feel like I know like the back of my hand. Yesterday I was at a meeting for members of my local LEC, and heard something that I’d heard many times before: the regional hubs will be a campaigning body which will focus on the party vote (not a direct quote, but I think it will suffice).
While I do have some problems with this particular solution, which I’m not going to go into now, something struck me yesterday. Every time this party vote problem that the regional hubs are meant to address, one generic example is dragged out – local campaigns which focussed too much on the candidate at the expense of the party vote.
The more I think about it, the less I agree with the regional hub model being a proper solution to the problem. That said, I don’t think regional hubs are a terribly bad idea. I think the concept needs a bit of work, but may fix some other problems the party has.
The point I’m getting to is that if we want to campaign better for the party vote – we need to run better campaigns, and the solution is probably going to be cultural and operational rather than structural.
I think if all the effort that will be devoted to setting up 16 regional hubs was spent on training candidates, campaign mangers and activists, and building up and sharing a body of knowledge around campaigning, we would be far better off.
Of course, it’s not an either/or situation, and regional hubs may fix other problems. But if the problem we are trying to fix is to run better party vote campaigns, I think there are better ways of getting there.
Two nights ago members of the Lib Dems delivered hundereds of these leaflets to the good people of Manchester…
Obviously they haven’t been keeping up with the news…
Via Guido Fawkes.
Labour activist Tony Milne, who was involved in the successful Civil Unions campaign, has pulled together this quick list of lobbying tips for those who want to make a difference in the campaign for marriage equality.
Respect the way in which an MP has decided to make a decision (there are multiple ways MPs are influenced or could come to their decision, and multiple factors they are taking into account when making a decision – some of which may have nothing to do with the bill itself).
Discuss, don’t lecture.
Share your view and experience, don’t bully, hector, or harass (makes you feel better, but doesn’t help persuade – in fact, does the opposite).
Pick up on the signals in any response to inform future responses. For example: if an MP says they will be guided by their electorate (incredibly valuable information for an MP to share!), organise locally to encourage locals to explain from a personal perspective what it will mean to them the day the law passes. Or organise a petition of locals to demonstrate local support.
Never attack an MP you’re trying to persuade.
An undecided MP (even a “no”) who has been treated with respect, dignity, compassion and understanding, is more likely to become a “yes”.
Let’s not repeat the mistakes of our opponents whose poor tactics and lack of lobbying skills have helped our victories in the past.