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May 2010
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I proudly voted for Jennifer Brunner today -- a courageous politician who thinks the way I think, who believes that the process of getting elected is important, not just the process of governing.  She does this in more ways than one -- campaigning by being direct, and running clean elections. She represents for me, and many others, the idea that you don't have to be a part of the old boys' network to make a difference in politics and government, and I've admired her candor and assertiveness as Secretary of State.

But Jennifer Brunner never had a chance in this race.

What I mean by "never had a chance" isn't that someone like her could never win -- someone has to win every election, after all. But the purpose of a campaign is to, well, increase your chances of winning. Brunner's campaign plan had no chance of impacting the election -- so her only chance of winning was for something gigantic to happen in the larger political environment (her opponent being destroyed by an enormous gaffe or scandal, or something like that) to grant her victory. Basically, she needed a huge stroke of luck.

Brunner's supporters and campaign articulated this as a grassroots army against a well-funded opponent.

When people talk about what I do, they think of me as a grassroots person -- that guy who goes door-to-door about gay stuff. So obviously I believe grassroots campaigns are important, and admirable, and effective. Given that, why would I say Jennifer had no chance?

I did hear an articulation of the Brunner strategy when I went to a volunteer recruitment event organized by the campaign -- basically to promote phone banking for Jennifer. The campaign said that it had the top E-mail list in Ohio -- that it was counting on grassroots support to overcome Fisher's then-enormous money advantage. They touted Jennifer's appeal to African-Americans given her performance as secretary of state in advocating for minority voters (and her endorsement by an influential group of pastors in Cleveland). They said that undecideds contacted by the Brunner phone campaign were breaking 8-1 in favor of Jennifer. They noted the disarray in Fisher's campaign -- how he'd fired his campaign manager because he couldn't move the poll numbers and put Jennifer away. They noted Fisher had no grassroots outreach program of his own.

They then described the field program -- doing voter ID, persuasion, and GOTV (get-out-the-vote); mailing all the persuadable voters to move them, working to get IDed supporters involved (again with a mail piece, if I recall correctly). They were going to canvass, which would yield new volunteers and donations. They were going to do the "absentee ballot chase" -- following up in particular with voters who had requested absentee ballots.

All of this is quite sophisticated, and a smart way to structure the field campaign. But it was also quite irrelevant.

I asked how many votes were needed to win -- about 500,000, I was told. (At some point I had estimated the number to be lower, but we'll find out tonight -- I'd trust their estimate over mine; I didn't spend much time on it.) They were planning to make 875,000 phone calls. I'd say this means that they could reach 175,000 voters once -- not enough to win the election by itself, but enough to swing a close one, maybe. 

You'd like to have a strategy that would reach more than 16% of the size of the electorate, but a phone call from a volunteer is a pretty effective, impactful contact. But it turns out that was irrelevant too.

The main reason it was irrelevant: they didn't have anyone to make the calls! I went to the third of a series of meetings, that turned out a total of something like 30-50 people (not each -- total!) in the Cuyahoga County area. And I wasn't at the other meetings, but at my meeting, it was quite clear that the audience attending was not likely to do a lot of work making phone calls -- a few would, most wouldn't. We spent 30 minutes gossiping about the two alleged Fisher stalking horses who had failed to qualify for the ballot a few days earlier before we even started to talk about what the campaign needed to win.

Just a little math illustrates the gravity of the situation. A determined, extremely disciplined phone banker can make 100 attempted dials in a 2-hour shift (it turns out high schoolers have a magical ability to make more, but I've never figured out how this is). It would take hundreds of extremely dedicated volunteers working a dozen shifts each to make just the campaign's goal of 875,000 dials. And most people don't volunteer 25 hours for a campaign. Getting 750 volunteers (roughly) to volunteer a dozen times each is hard work; I'd guess that out of these three meetings they got either zero or one of those people (again, combined). The average volunteer, in my experience, volunteers 7 hours for a campaign. So what they really needed was about 2,500 volunteers -- just to reach 16% of the number of people who would vote, and reach them with a single phone call (and then not all of those people would actually vote). That's not 2,500 volunteers overall -- that's 2,500 volunteers making phone calls alone. Looking at what I saw, I'm guessing that rather than the 2,500 volunteers needed, they really had more like 50-100.

Worse yet, I heard it articulated that Brunner's mastery of new media -- blogs, social networking, etc. -- would somehow have an impact on the election.

What they were up against was millions of dollars. This means Lee Fisher could send millions of pieces of mail, buy TV ads that millions of voters would see. Jennifer had no way to reach millions of voters. There are still (at this hour; I'm writing this on Election Day) people hopefully pointing out that Fisher doesn't have a visible GOTV operation. It doesn't matter. Brunner's field campaign isn't operating on any scale either (I've been at polling places all day; there is no one there campaigning, and this is a big Democratic city where it ought to be easier than other places).

There are a lot of minor things I could point out that I think we can learn from this primary. But I'll try to keep it simple.

  • It's not a matter of grassroots vs. money -- it's a matter of scale. Grassroots could beat money if Jennifer had thousands of active volunteers to compete with Fisher's money. But she doesn't.

  • Social networking is not a substitute for, well, anything. It might be a potential source of money and volunteers if you used it aggressively in conjunction with getting people to volunteer offline (basically getting offline volunteers to recruit their online friends to volunteer offline or donate). The idea that social networking is a substitute for money or any other form of voter contact is silly. Jennifer has 4,000 Facebook fans. Many don't live in Ohio. She needs 500,000 Ohioans to win. Her Facebook fans are unlikely to be people who Facebook persuaded to vote (you get the most politically-minded, and thus likeliest voters, first). And anyway, Fisher has 3,000+ Facebook fans. Social media are sexy and fun and new and ... have very little effect on an election, in the ways that the Brunner campaign tried to use them.

  • The Obama campaign represented an unusual situation. Yes, Obama was able to build a massive grassroots army. But a national candidate with his constellation of attributes -- who achieves such pop culture visibility -- isn't going to be replicable at the state level. (Obama himself did not have a massive grassroots army when running for election in Illinois, and as appealing as Jennifer is, she's not Barack Obama.) So we learned the wrong lessons from that campaign. In an ordinary campaign, volunteers don't recruit themselves, and it's not easy to get them to do the work that's most needed. And Obama's campaign got a lot bigger in the general election, when the opponent was John McCain (and George W. Bush, in a way), who was very galvanizing to Democrats. I prefer Brunner, but being represented by Lee Fisher in the U.S. Senate doesn't strike fear into my heart; I think he'll be fine. Even Rob Portman as my U.S. Senator pales in comparison to a Republican president (and I don't even know what to call Sarah Palin).

  • Obama's grassroots army was organized by a gigantic staff. And, don't forget -- Obama raised more money than any candidate for any office in U.S. history. It wasn't all grassroots. In fact, the grassroots success was made possible by the unprecedented hiring spree made possible by ... you guessed it. Money. Because, ...

  • In a large campaign, most volunteers don't show up because of the candidate, even Obama. They show up because someone recruits them. Brunner's strategy for recruiting volunteers yielded -- in my experience -- a bunch of people who thought of themselves as activists, but were primarily community and organizational leaders who would do things like write letters to the editor or talk to other community leaders. This population is mostly uninterested in slogging through a phone list with 100 numbers on it, 35 of which are wrong, 8 people hanging up on them, sitting by themselves in their homes. So not only did their recruitment not yield enough quantity -- it also yielded the wrong people. Even Obama, who had a giant recruitment effect on his own, still relied mostly on this staff of organizers to do recruitment to get people in the door. And social networking tools didn't work for him either -- personal contact was the key.

  • Without money, there are just some things you can't do. Even with thousands of volunteers, there's no way to have the shallow contacts that you can have by TV or by mail with just volunteers. Even if you print literature (which still costs money) and then have canvassers lit-drop it, you're not going to canvass every neighborhood in Ohio multiple times -- but you can mail everybody multiple times. For goodness' sake, you can't get people to watch a YouTube video the way you can get them to watch a TV ad -- not millions of them, anyway.

  • Collective action matters. It's very, very difficult to get people to make a sustained effort as a volunteer when they work alone. It sounds easier to recruit people to do this -- they can do it on their own time, etc. In most cases, this is not true -- plus you lose all opportunity to improve their skills and build an infrastructure if everyone does everything alone. Brunner experimented with some collective action -- but when I raised the idea in the meeting, they actively discouraged it by telling me that they thought it reduced the per-phone banker yield (i.e., people were more likely to phone 3x/week from home if there wasn't a weekly group phone bank). That may be true for a few hypermotivated individuals, but it doesn't scale to thousands of volunteers, which is what they needed. I'm not against volunteers working alone, when there's no alternative, of course. But it's hard to get where you need to be with just that.

Why didn't Brunner's campaign realize this reality? Why didn't Brunner herself realize it? I have no idea.

But we as a community of progressives need to notice what went wrong here. There will be a lot of hand-wringing about misleading attacks over how Brunner wouldn't support Fisher after the primary, but hey, she's the Secretary of State, required to remain neutral, and the Plain Dealer endorsement, and Fisher lining up establishment support, and loyalty oaths, and the glass ceiling, and ... a lot of things that don't really matter much. Fisher had a narrow lead when the campaign started, and then he reached millions of voters, and we didn't, and so he expanded his lead. The rest of the back-and-forth had a very limited effect; very few voters knew about it. Most voters aren't like us.

Next time progressives face an election, we need a strategy for having millions of contacts with voters -- by mail, TV, volunteers on the phone, volunteers face-to-face; something, and ideally all of these. That means we need a better strategy for finding, recruiting, and training volunteers -- and a better strategy for raising money.

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Best moment: woman selling bottles of water. Doing a good job on a hot day (nice rap: "ice cold water here!" -- delivered in attention-getting manner) except that she was sitting within about 30 feet of one of only three drinking fountains I saw on the entire 6-mile route ...

Via Garmin Connect: Central Park Loop

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Via Garmin Connect

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Well, we've arrived in Istanbul after a 10-hour flight with no wi-fi and no electrical outlets. I tried to nap, did a bit of reading, a bit of programming, and did some ... thinking about programming. A few puzzles here and there and we were here.

The first thing I noticed is that here's how a word association game would go if you were having one with the Turkish government:

You: An American
Them: Patient Zero
You: American visitors
Them: Vectors
You: United States current events
Them: Epidemic
You: President Obama's biggest challenge
Them: Swine flu

We were not only filling out medical histories on the plane (entirely related to swine flu), but were met by a team of mask-outfitted Turks when we deplaned who ... well, I don't know what they were doing. Collecting the medical histories, I guess. Then there were signs everywhere about H1N1, etc.

Anyway, we had a nice lunch and a nice dinner, checked into our charming hotel and currently I'm posting this from a charming nearby cafe that has free wi-fi. Can't complain much. Tomorrow we commence tourism.

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From a GQ interview:

Do you think homosexuality is a choice?

Oh, no. I don’t think I’ve ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there’s a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can’t simply say, oh, like, “Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay.” It’s like saying, “Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.”

So your feeling would be that people are born one way or another.

I mean, I think that’s the prevailing view at this point, and I know that there’s some out there who think that you can absolutely make that choice. And maybe some people have. I don’t know, I can’t say. Until we can give a definitive answer one way or the other, I think we should respect that.
Presumably he's toast now; I don't know if the GOP party chair can get away with stuff like this. :)

Olympia, WA apparently has what's known as an "equal benefits ordinance," in which city contractors are required to provide benefits to domestic partners (if they do so for spouses). So a company there is going to lose a contract for over $2 million for building "a new water utility pump station and water mains" because they don't have domestic partner benefits.

Sure, deciding who builds water pump stations is ordinarily not the sexiest public policy issue. All the better that equality is a decisive factor in who gets to do it.

Maybe in our city's future? Gotta defend the domestic partnership registry first.

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From the January 6 Washington Post:

We have to do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering, the different technology that young people are using today.

-- Mike Duncan, Republican National Committee chair, on how the Republicans need to do better youth outreach

Dear Friend,

If you've been following the Cleveland news, you're aware of the legislation just recently passed by Cleveland's City Council regarding a domestic partner registry (Ordinance 1745-08). Because of our concern to honor the Lord and seek the best for our community, I am joining with a large group of pastors who are encouraging church members who live in the city of Cleveland to sign a petition this Sunday that will put this issue to a ballot for voters (rather than being decided by a small group of city council members). If you live in the suburbs, you're welcome to pass along this email to others who live in Cleveland...and to pray diligently. There's no doubt that what happens in the suburbs affects the city and vice versa.

The proposed domestic partner registry would mean that any 2 people, regardless of gender and no matter where they live, could come to Cleveland and attest that they are committed to one another in an intimate relationship. When they do this, they will receive a legal document from the City of Cleveland. The ordinance purports to "remove the administrative burden on hospitals, universities, employers, and other businesses to define and verify the existence of these committed non-marital relationships." However, we believe that deciding these kinds of issues by a vote of all the people rather than by a handful of politicians will provide a much more fair representation of what the public wants.

In reading through the ordinance, there are many places that it appears to be internally inconsistent, claiming not to alter the definition of marriage but defining a "domestic relationship" in terms traditionally used to describe the marriage relationship [see section 109.01(1)] and giving status to many "family" activities like rearing children. The ordinance claims not to recognize any legal status that approximates marriage but comes very close to doing that. Our question: If there is no legal implication to this ordinance, then why have it to begin with? We believe that this ordinance is, at the very least, a beginning of the redefinition of a traditional God- ordained marriage.

With the Mayor of Cleveland planning to sign the ordinance into law, the only recourse the residents of Cleveland have is to petition for a general election of this issue.

When a government sets policies in place that may lead to behavior that does not conform to the will of God, believers who are citizens under that government have a responsibility to act for the good of the community (Romans 13:3). When we speak up for justice and God's good directions, we are following the examples of godly people in the Bible like Moses, who stood up to Pharaoh (Exodus 1-14), the judges (Judges 2:14-16), Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1), and others (Daniel
4:27; Luke 3:18-19; Acts 24:24-25; Hebrews 11:33). Influencing a government to make good laws is one way of obeying Jesus' command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39), for good laws benefit all people.

We believe that sexual intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and marriage is to be only between one man and one woman, following the pattern established by God in creation. As a church, we also believe that [church members] should always act with love and compassion toward those who do not share our view. Pray with us, that we will model that grace and truth reflected so powerfully in the life of Jesus.

For all those at [Church] who live in the city of Cleveland, there will be an opportunity to sign a petition calling for a vote on this issue at a general election. This referendum with 10,000 signatures needs to be returned to the City of Cleveland by this Monday, January 5. So, this Sunday you are welcome to sign this petition at a designated table in the church lobby. Acquiring 10,000 signatures on such a short notice will be a challenge.

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Here's what the public pollsters think happened.  See this summary from someone who attended a panel discussion, along with some video interviews of two participants:

http://www.pollster.com/blogs/ca_pollsters_on_prop_8.php

The Field poll guy cites some comparison work he did between the internals of the network exit polls and his polls, stating that the movement from No to Yes took place amongst certain demographics, including Catholics and regular churchgoers (and that turnout was affected as well).  I haven't replicated his research, but it's an interesting approach.  He thinks the error is introduced on the Sunday before the election, in church; this I am quite dubious about but it is consistent with his data.  He also claims that people's attitudes toward gay marriage are stable over time -- he says that results for particular age cohorts have been stable for 30 years (but does this account for changing demographics?).  Finally, he advises the No side to go for a 2012 election to maximize turnout, citing the fact that the electorate is older (and thus worse for us) in a low-turnout election.

The PPIC guy did a post-election survey, and says that something resembling "wrong-way" voting (where you are confused about what Yes and No votes mean) decreased.

Their survey (before the election) showed us losing 49-47 if the question was phrased "do you support gay marriage."  But it showed 19% of Prop 8 opponents opposed gay marriage.  In their post-election survey, only 8% of Prop 8 opponents opposed gay marriage.  He's cautious about interpreting this -- he's not sure whether it was "wrong-way" voting as we'd define it or whether they were persuaded to cast a "yes" vote.  He writes:

Our pre-election surveys showed that a significant percentage of voters opposed to same-sex marriage were nevertheless planning to vote against Proposition 8. Whether this contradictory intent indicated ambivalence about supporting a constitutional ban or confusion about the meaning of a no vote, enough of these voters were persuaded to switch sides to provide a narrow victory for the measure.


In a separate point, he cautions that race influenced the outcome much less than education and income.  He writes:

While much has been made of the importance of race and ethnicity in passage of this initiative, the socioeconomic divide was the more powerful factor: Prop. 8 won among both white and nonwhite voters without a college degree and among lower-income households, while it lost among both white and non-white voters with college degrees and among upper-income households.

He disagrees on the church effect.  Finally, he disagrees on the "generational replacement" theory above, citing my concern above -- the age cohorts in California change over time due to immigration and outmigration.  So he doesn't necessarily believe time is on our side there -- he believes that migration into California tilts toward our opponents.

In corruption.
Corruption Graph
More here.

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