6 reasons I’m phoning strangers in Ohio — and why you should too
It’s happened: this election has compelled me to phone strangers and persuade them to vote.
Not only that, but this weekend my better half Lyndall and I are driving from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, to knock on doors and get out the vote (GOTV). We’re hitching a free lift early on Saturday, staying the night, and heading home Sunday. Lyndall may stay on a day or two to drive people to polling stations.
Initially I thought the reason to get involved was solely to express political opinion.
After further thought, I’ve realized GOTV is actually far more interesting than just voicing views.
Here are the 6 reasons I’m spending time on GOTV this Autumn.
Yes, I think Hillary Clinton is logically far superior to Donald Trump, and I’ll happily voice that opinion all day long.
But logic aside, I’m extremely excited for the possibility of the first female president.
When you take a moment to consider what that means for gender equality — you should be too!
I’m doing GOTV because this election is exciting.
I’m pretty sure GOTV efforts, when applied smartly, make a difference. I’m enjoying learning exactly how much of a difference it makes.
The Electoral College system is an incredibly game-able system. It gives rise to swing states where the election gets decided, and incentivizes campaign financiers to make those states to-the-wire tight.
Given that, I’m focusing my effort on exactly 3 states: Florida, Ohio and Nevada.
Bush/Gore 2000 was an astonishingly close election. The final count gave Bush the victory by a mere 537 votes in Florida. That’s the kind of margin where it feels worth spending time doing my bit to get, say, +50 votes.
I’m doing GOTV to exert influence — where it counts.
In my San Francisco bubble, I mostly spend time with well-educated technocrats between the ages of 20 and 35. My immediate circle of friends is extremely homogenous. For all the diversity of San Francisco, it’s extremely detached from everyday life in most of the USA.
As one of my friends accurately put it: “when was the last time you saw a child in San Francisco?”
A 2 minute phone call with Martha, 78, in Dayton, Ohio, followed by a 40 second chat with Shawnee, 19, from Jacksonville, Florida, followed by a 4 minute conversation with Ramirez, 44, from Spark, Nevada, and you get compelling first-hand perspectives from outside the bubble.
The diversity from these conversations is enjoyable. In a world where it’s getting harder to hear contrasting views and opinions (thanks, algorithms), what better way to learn about someone else’s perspective than — well—talking to them?
I’m doing GOTV to gain perspective.
Take your normal 21st Century anxiety of interrupting a stranger. Now multiply that by 10. That’s what it’s like calling someone you don’t know to talk about the election.
And that’s just the start. Once you overcome the awkward start, you have to swiftly build rapport and get persuading.
Sure, campaign organizers provide you with a script. But the script naïvely assumes a mechanical decision-making process:
1. Say "Who are you voting for"?
2. If "Clinton" then say "Great!" else say "Logic"
3. Go to 1
After a few conversations, it’s clear each person’s political views falls somewhere in an N-dimensional preference space, which is utterly impossible to map to any script:
Back to the challenge: With each cold call, you have 5–10 seconds to build trust. You then have 15–30 seconds to work out a) which dimensions the person cares about, and b) where they fall on those dimensions. Finally you have 30–45 seconds to persuade them.
It’s like a game of 20 questions, except you only get 4 questions, 2 minutes, and no second tries.
I’m doing GOTV because I love a good challenge.
I lied about “you get no second tries”. You obviously can’t call the same person twice. But there is a never-ending queue of numbers to call, one after the next.
Take your typical “persuasion” phone call: pitching an investor, selling your product, negotiating a discount. You generally only get one shot, and as a result these conversations are notoriously stressful.
With an infinite queue of numbers to dial, it basically doesn’t matter if you screw a given conversation up.
You can fumble your words. You can ask questions in the wrong order. You can forget to land a point.
You won’t have lost funding, spoiled a sale, or lost money. At worst you haven’t changed the result of the election. At best you’ll swing votes. Little by little, you’ll gain valuable practice in the skills of listening and persuading.
It took me 3–4 phone calls to really find my stride.
After the 10th call, I was confident, using everything from my British accent to personal anecdotes as part of my pitch. “Oh, you can call back any time, I’d love to sit and listen to your voice” one lady from Ohio told me!
As a bonus, the very next day at work, I immediately noticed my increased confidence pitching while phone interviewing a candidate.
I’m doing GOTV to gain skills.
I find complex machines fascinating.
The media often talks about the Democrat’s slick GOTV machine. However, it’s hard to really appreciate it until you actually go through it.
Once you’re in the machine, you start to see it, and it sure is fascinating.
Millions of voter phone numbers and names. Thousands of campaign newsletters. Hundreds of volunteers. Data, logistics, and plans. Software, marketing, and gamification. Emails, adverts, calls. All the while, the sensation of “wow, this is only the tip of the iceberg”.
Granted, this is nothing you wouldn’t see in a well run business. But it’s truly remarkable to witness this level of organization on back of volunteers and donations, freewheeling day to day from news cycles.
I’m doing GOTV to marvel at the machine of a well organized political campaign.
Despite all of this — like many, I can’t wait for the election to be over!
I’m hopeful that, like me, enough of the country gets behind the more kind, thoughtful and experienced candidate. And then we can go back to living normal lives.
Until then, there’s only 3 days left to get all the benefits outlined above. So join me and hundreds of thousands of other people, and GOTV!
Make phone calls: www.hillaryclinton.com/calls