3 min read

The voter and the volunteer

Some expenses are for winning votes; others are for motivating volunteers. It's best not to conflate the two.
The voter and the volunteer

Over the course of your campaign, it's likely your activities and resources will end up in of two buckets: the "voters" bucket and the "volunteers" bucket.

In other words, there are things your campaign does in order to reach and convert voters to your side.

And there are other things you do that help you keep your volunteers excited, engaged, and motivated – which should translate to more votes.

In many instances, candidates conflate these two things, and assume all expenses are in the "voter" bucket when they in reality aren't. But that doesn't make them less important.

It's not always obvious which expense or effort falls into which bucket, so I'll run through some examples.

Let's take bumper stickers.

I remain fairly unconvinced that bumper stickers win any votes. I don't think drivers spend much time looking at them – if they can even read them – and not a lot of those drivers who are stuck behind the bumper sticker will actually be likely voters in the candidates jurisdiction (in many cases because they've traveled from out of the area).

I'm also not convinced voters are persuaded to vote for a candidate because the car in front of them at the red light has a sticker on their car.

Can they pick up a stray vote or two? Sure.

However, many volunteers have it in their minds that bumper stickers are a critical part of campaigns. Part of it might be because Presidential candidates often have them. Part of it might be because some candidate that won a few years ago had some, so it must have been an effective part of that campaign.

Whatever the reason, there's a bit of an expectation that any successful campaign includes bumper stickers. And if you don't have bumper stickers, it must mean the candidate isn't running a serious or competent campaign. And so the volunteer loses enthusiasm when they hear the campaign doesn't have bumper stickers.

Fortunately, bumper stickers aren't very expensive. So if it doesn't destroy your budget, it probably doesn't hurt to print a few dozen, just to keep your volunteers happy. And many of those volunteers will put a sticker on their own car, which makes them feel even more invested, which is always a good thing for your organization.

I would also place campaign T-Shirts into the "volunteer" bucket. I don't think T-Shirts win votes, mostly because you'd need hundreds of people wearing them every day to reach enough voters enough times to really make a difference.

However, for volunteers, they feel like a uniform. They make them feel like they are on a team that's going to win. It makes them feel included and invested to wear a T-Shirt with the candidate's logo on it.

There is an added benefit in the fact that when your volunteers are going door to door, or are at a public event, it immediately identifies them as a political campaign representative. In many cases, a resident will be more willing to open the door if they know it's not a salesman. At the very least, they probably feel more comfortable knowing the person probably isn't on their doorstep for nefarious reasons.

To be clear, none of these things will hurt you with voters. But each dollar spent on a resource that isn't effective with voters at the expense of a resource that is effective with voters has an opportunity cost. But having an excited and engaged organization is important for many campaigns, so you'll have to balance out these demands.

My own preference is to make sure a sizable amount of voter contact resources are spent before moving onto volunteer resources. And, as mentioned, volunteer resources usually don't break the budget. You just don't want them to exceed (or even come close, really) your voter contact budget.

When running a campaign, organizational morale is important. A number of things go into that, but part of the equation is making sure volunteers feel like they're part of a well-run campaign. And in many cases, they think a well-run campaign has bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia.

So go ahead and order the bumper stickers and t-shirts...just make sure you have enough in the budget for voter contact!