Taking Action: Anatomy of a Political Campaign

Taking Action

Anatomy of a Political Campaign

Greer Glazer and Charles Alexandre

“A campaign is about defining who you are—your vision and your opponent’s vision.”

—Donna Brazile

Is it hard to imagine why anyone would stand in the rain or snow from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Election Day handing out information about a political candidate. How about someone driving a candidate to eight events in one long 14-hour day covering 250 miles? People work on political campaigns for a variety of reasons, and understanding their motivation is critical to building a strong volunteer program.

Why People Work on Campaigns

People’s motivations for working on campaigns fall into four general categories: (1) belief in an issue or a candidate, (2) network building, (3) party loyalty, and (4) personal payback.

Belief in an Issue or Candidate

Some people work for a candidate because they feel strongly about issues they support and champion or conversely want to defeat the opponent because of where he or she stands on the issues. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama preached a message of change that resonated with voters. The 2008 presidential election resulted in higher voter turnout than had been seen in many years (61.7% of eligible voters as compared to 60.1% in 2004 and 54.2% in 2000) (McDonald, n.d.). Obama’s message clearly resonated with minority voters with 96% of African Americans and 67% of Hispanics supporting him over John McCain, the Republican candidate. Obama garnered the support of 70% of unmarried women and 56% of women overall. Obama also beat Senator McCain among voters under age 30 by a margin of 34%. Interestingly, since the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, no Democrat has had the support of more than 38% of white men until 2008, when Obama took 41% of the white male vote (U.S. News Staff, 2008).

Network Building

Some people are drawn to campaigns to build their own social network. Getting these volunteers involved in social activities will keep them involved in campaign activities.

Party Loyalty

Some people work for the candidate because they are loyal to the political party. Candidates target close races in which they believe an infusion of financial and human resources can change the outcome of the election. Party loyalists will travel to different states to work on campaigns in which they can make a difference in the election. In 2008, nurses traveled to a variety of states to attend rallies and events to support presidential candidates and help their candidate gain visibility to garner press coverage.


Tangible paybacks include paid work for the campaign, course credit for students, and, if the candidate is elected, appointment to staff, appointment to key commissions or boards or other political appointments, and support for specific legislation. Greer Glazer worked on Ohio Congressman Eric Fingerhut’s campaign by coordinating house parties in one city in his district and was appointed to his 19th Congressional District Healthcare Advisory Committee. Intangible benefits may include recognition for the work and a desire to contribute to the democratic process.

Understanding why people work on campaigns enables the campaign to successfully recruit volunteers. However, understanding why people work on campaigns does not necessarily help to retain them. You must also be aware of why people stop working on campaigns.

Why People Stop Working on Campaigns

The major reason why people stop working on campaigns is that their roles and campaign activities are not aligned with their motivation for working on the campaign. It would not make sense to ask someone who is pro-choice to work on the campaign of a candidate who is anti-choice. Even if the activities match the campaign worker’s motivation, people leave campaigns because they lose interest, aren’t given enough positive feedback and recognition, don’t feel part of the larger whole, lose faith that the candidate can win the election, feel that the work is boring, have competing outside interests such as family and work obligations, and are not enjoying themselves. What are campaign activities that either engage or disengage campaign workers?

The Internet and the 2008 Election Campaign

The Pew Research Center (2004) declared the Internet an essential part of American Politics. Four years later, the 2008 Pew Internet & American Life Project (Pew Research Center, 2009) reported that 55% of the adult population in the United States went online to take part in or get news about the 2008 election campaign (Box 74-1). This marked the first time “more than half the voting-age population used the Internet to connect to the political process during an election cycle” (Pew Research Center, 2009, p. 3).

Edsall (2008) described the growth in the significance of the Internet as causing an upheaval in U.S. politics by “creating (1) innovative ways to reach voters; (2) a radically changed news system; (3) an unprecedented flood of small donors; and (4) newly empowered interest groups on the left and the right.” (p. 1). In 2007, for the first time, some presidential candidates began their campaigns by announcing their candidacy on the Internet. Most notably Hillary Clinton stated her intention to run by announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee over the Internet using a video in her living room in Chappaqua, New York (Edsall, 2008).

Supporters of both major candidates used the Internet during the 2008 campaign, although supporters of McCain were more likely to use the Internet than Obama supporters (83% vs. 76%). This is not surprising because higher levels of income and education, which describe Republican and non-Republican supporters of McCain, are indicators of Internet use. Overall, supporters of candidate Obama participated in a wider range of online political activities than their Republican counterparts. For example, Obama supporters were more likely to post comments about the campaign online, go online to volunteer for the campaign, and to donate money to the candidate (Pew Research Center, 2009).

Who were the online political users of the 2008 election campaign? Not surprisingly, of all voting age adults using the Internet, young adults under age 30 have the highest level of Internet use, although adults in all age groups are political users of the Internet. For example, 74% of 18- to 24-year-olds were active politically online during the 2008 campaign, as were 71% of 25- to 34-year-olds, 65% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 57% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 22% of adults age 65 years and older. Demographically (gender, race, and geography), political Internet users are similar in makeup to the adult population as a whole, though the political Internet user tends to have higher levels of income and education than the total U.S. population.

Social Networking Websites

New phenomena not readily available during the 2004 election campaign but used extensively during the 2008 campaign were social networking websites (e.g., MySpace and Facebook) and video-sharing websites (e.g., YouTube). The Pew Research Center (2008) reported that 27% of adults under age 30, including 37% of those age 18 to 24, reported getting election campaign information from social networking websites. Recognizing the significance of such websites, the Obama campaign hired Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to help develop the Obama campaign website. Using the social networking site model, the Obama website encouraged visitors to connect with others in their neighborhoods, volunteer for the campaign, make contributions, and keep up with the latest campaign news. The Obama campaign set up accounts on multiple social websites including Facebook, MySpace, MyBatanga, MyGente, AsianAve, and Twitter (Terhune, 2008). Use of these social websites helped Obama gain the edge in the youth vote that helped him clinch the Democratic nomination (Journalism professor discusses use of internet in elections, 2008).

Campaign Activities

Campaign activities can be divided into basic-level campaign activities and advanced-level campaign activities. Basic campaign activities include organizing phone banks and literature drops, office work, poll watching, organizing house parties, driving candidates, fund-raising, serving as a health policy advisor, organizing voter registration, and providing Internet communication about a candidate. Advanced-level campaign activities and roles usually require full-time involvement and include the campaign manager, finance director, political director, operations director, communications director, and new-media or Internet director.

Basic-Level Campaign Activities

Basic-level campaign activities are easily undertaken by nurses because they are used to working on teams and in groups, have good communication skills, and are well organized. There are some issues that need to be considered before volunteering. First, are you doing this for your personal benefit or for an organization’s benefit?

Although there are no limitations on your involvement in a campaign as a private individual, in some cases it may be inappropriate for you to work on a political campaign as a representative of a particular organization. Some organizations are prohibited from engaging in political activity or candidate endorsements based on federal election law and their tax status (see Chapter 80). Political involvement on behalf of that organization may cause problems for the organization as well as the campaign. Be sure that your participation in a campaign is approved by the organization that you represent.

Once you have the green light, don’t be shy about making sure the campaign is aware of your affiliation. If you want an organization to get credit for your participation, you need to identify yourself as a representative of that organization. It would be best to have a group of individuals from your organization take responsibility for a specific campaign activity or project. The American Nurses Association organizes Campaign Activity Night (CAN) in the fall of each national election year. During that night, nurses nationwide are asked to work on campaigns. At the state level, nurses in Ohio formed the Ohio Nurses Democratic Caucus, an affiliate of the Ohio Democratic Party, to promote candidates and issues important to them. The caucus has a mission based on informing nurses about health care priorities of the Democratic Party and to inform the Party about issues important to nurses (Ohio Nurses Democratic Caucus, n.d.).

The second issue to consider is how much time you have to volunteer. Campaigns count on their volunteers, and if you sign up to do something, it is important that you follow through. Obviously the more time and involvement you have, the greater will be the payback. For those who have more time, decide whether you want to be involved in many activities or stay focused on one activity. Keep in mind that it is easier to quantify one’s contribution and get credit for the work when you can be identified as filling a specific role such as driver, house party coordinator, or heath policy advisor.

The last issue to consider is when to get involved in the campaign. If possible, it is best to get involved early in the campaign. Candidates remember their early supporters. It is easier to carve out your niche when there are fewer people involved in the early stages of the campaign.

Types of Campaign Activities

Phone Banks.

Phone banks are frequently used to contact voters for voter identification, to communicate the candidate’s message, to determine support or nonsupport of a specific candidate or issue, and to ensure turnout on Election Day. They are also used to recruit volunteers, raise money, and ensure turnout at campaign events. Nurses are usually experienced at phone banking because of their excellent communication skills.

Literature Drops.

Volunteers often go door to door to drop off campaign literature. Leafleting is a form of literature distribution that is limited to public places. Literature drops and leafleting are low-impact voter contacts with low cost and little ability to target voters. Other low-impact activities include buttons and bumper stickers, lawn signs, billboards, and human billboards. High-impact voter contact activities include: door-to-door canvassing, house parties, special events, and get-out-the-vote activities.

Door-to-Door Canvassing.

Door-to-door canvassing is a traditional type of voter contact in which the volunteer knocks on the door and speaks with the voter. Your goal may be to share the candidate’s message or to determine the voting preference of the residents of the house.

House Parties.

House parties are given by a volunteer in a targeted area where neighbors, friends, and colleagues are invited to the volunteer’s house to meet the candidate. Greer Glazer served as house party coordinator for Lee Fisher during his campaign for Ohio State Senate. When Fisher was elected State Senator, Greer served in an advisory capacity on nursing and health issues. He subsequently ran for and was elected to the office of Ohio Attorney General. At the time of this writing, Fisher is Ohio Lieutenant Governor and a candidate for the U.S. Senate. The relationship that had been developed by working on all of his campaigns was very helpful when Greer was able to have access to discuss Medicaid payments for advanced practice nurses.

Created Events.

Created events are the best way to create the environment for the candidate’s message and to target it to a specific group (Figure 74-1). Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio (D-OH) routinely holds such events. These include meetings with nurses to discuss health care issues, meetings with senior citizens to discuss prescription drug coverage, or town hall meetings to discuss larger policy issues such as social security. Every detail is planned in advance. Nurses participated in a variety of created events during the 2008 presidential campaign. For example, Barack Obama participated in an event sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spending a day with a home health care nurse in California (SEIU, 2007). Later in the campaign, President Obama again spent time with a nurse at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis (Rhee, 2008). The campaign used these events to elaborate on the candidate’s position and to provide visual images, using the public’s trust in nurses, to enhance support for his candidacy.

Stay updated, free articles. Join our Telegram channel

Mar 18, 2017 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Taking Action: Anatomy of a Political Campaign

Full access? Get Clinical Tree

Get Clinical Tree app for offline access