Nuts & Bolts: Apathy is always at risk

Nuts & Bolts: Apathy is always at risk

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns or explain how we can improve our party.

Every election cycle we sort through the pressing issues of the day. One issue that never changes is apathy. You know the feeling: “Why should I bother to vote? We have the White House,” or “I can vote for this race, but I’m going to skip down-ballot races” or “Maybe I’ll just stay home.” Campaigns often choose to address apathy by telling potential sit-outs how doomed we are. DOOMED! But apathy can actually doom a campaign, and there are much better ways to combat apathy than just blaming voters for being apathetic.

Blaming voters doesn’t work.

If part of your plan to turn out an apathetic voter base is to guilt or shame them into voting, you need to start planning all over again. Voters generally dislike being shamed about voting because it is not always reflective of their circumstances. Voter apathy isn’t just, “Well, I don’t want to vote.” It is often a result of voter suppression that puts hurdles in voters’ path to the ballot box. So, instead, an apathetic voter is more likely to say, “I cannot figure out how to vote,” or “I don’t have time off from work to jump these hurdles,” or, “I don’t have the energy to endure the embarrassment of having my credentials checked at the polls.” Or, in some states, “I don’t know if I’m even allowed to vote.” None of these valid concerns are the same as “I don’t think voting is important.”

Instead of blaming voters for their apathy, or shouting about our impending doom at them, an easier way to approach this question is just to be helpful. Here are some useful phrases:

“Need help getting registered to vote?”
“Need help getting to a polling place on election day?”
“Do you need assistance finding your polling place?”
“Early voting has started! Here are the hours at your polling place.”

Turns out, giving potential voters actual information can be more effective than making the voter out to be the bad guy.

Turn the problem around.

If the voter isn’t the bad guy in voter apathy, how can you give a voter and a candidate a way to talk about apathy as a problem without that framing? This is important. We can find ways to talk about nonvoters without saying, “They’re are just apathetic. “ Voters hear, “You don’t care,” and, “If we lose, it’s your fault.” 

When you address voter turnout or voters who don’t turn out every election, be willing to accept some of that responsibility. Better yet, find out how to do better:

“What can we do to make it easier for you to vote this year?”
“Do you need information about our candidates running?”
“We know that voting can be difficult for many reasons. We’re here to help.”

All three of these are examples I’ve received from field organizers in different states who have successfully overcome low turnout.

One point of complete agreement among volunteers, campaign workers, and candidates is this: Blaming the voter for a campaign’s potential loss is the fastest way to have your canvasser get a door slammed in their face. Worse: No one—genuinely no one—believes this tactic is more likely to turn out voters.

Provide a reason to vote.

Voters need a reason to vote, most often a positive reason. Yes, they can dislike your opponent. They often already do. But unless the opposition is an unbelievably terrible incumbent, potential voters also need to hear something positive about you. Republicans fall in line and will vote for their candidates, but Democratic voters need to fall in love with a candidate to really get out there. Obviously, this is a more difficult task in a smaller election. It is amazing how many registered Democratic voters will vote for the Republican on the ballot for Sheriff or Attorney General, District Attorney, State Treasurer, State Secretary of Insurance, or other offices. They will just leave those lines blank. Oh, my friends, let me tell you: We radically underappreciate how much damage can happen in these offices. However, explaining the damage that can be done isn’t the positive message that makes people remember you when they get into the voting booth.

Numerous studies tell us that intentional undervoting happens every election. People will vote for Governor or President, and leave every other race blank. Or, they will vote only for their friends on the ballot and no one else. To overcome this, you have to make sure voters have a reason to vote for you, and that they remember your name in the voting booth. Having a positive association with your name is a much easier way to earn their vote. 

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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