The majority of research on relational organizing has been focused on the impact in driving voter turnout. However, we have long held that a significantly more powerful use case is for driving persuasion. As the measurement of persuasion requires costly user surveys, research on the impact of relational organizing on persuasion has been quite limited.
Recently, I came across a case study by Dylan Cate. If you haven’t met Dylan, he is one of the smartest minds I have come across in relational organizing. He learned the trade the old school way, as a labor organizer helping healthcare workers form unions in Washington, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, and most recently, he was the organizing director for the Washington Dems.
In 2016, he ran the field operations for Brady Walkinshaw’s primary campaign for the US House. In just a few months, Dylan’s team was able to recruit close to 400 volunteers to personally contact 50K unique voters.
As part of their efforts, Dylan ran a few tests to measure if the program was effective. The results were strong enough to convince him and the campaign that their relational organizing program was making a significant impact. When they measured the impact on turnout, they found that their relational program resulted in a 9% turnout improvement. This fits nicely with other studies on the impact of relational organizing on voter turnout. Even more interesting, was the study they put together on the impact on persuasion.
Dylan’s team called two groups of similar voters. The set up a control group of 4K voters which they canvassed via phone and door to assess their support. 27% indicated strong support and 45% were undecided. This was compared against a similar group of voters that were first sent an email from a friend in support of the campaign. For this 2nd group of voters, 44% indicated strong support, an increase of 17% and 29% were undecided, a decrease of 16%.
While more research needs to be conducted in this area, it’s critical that campaigns rethink the timing of relational organizing programs. To date, most programs have been implemented as turnout programs near election day. To effectively persuade voters, relational organizing should be started significantly earlier. We recommend 3–6 months before election day for local efforts and 6–12 months for larger campaigns If you have any questions on this case study, I can be reached at email@example.com and Dylan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.