Instead of working to organize, engage and inspire people of color who make up 46% of all Democratic voters, the Democratic Party is wasting time and money seeking to capture an elusive white swing voter. Campaign managers believe the white swing voter is the most important sector of the electorate consequently they spend vast sums on television ads trying to capture the white vote, but research has shown swing voters are a minor portion of the electorate, and television commercials don’t increase voter turnout.
That portion of the electorate classified, as true “swing voters” is extremely small and is decreasing. The decline in swing voters can be explained by the clear differences between political parties. Over the last two election cycles 5% of voters switched parties in presidential elections, about six million people.i Comparatively about twenty five million people of color were eligible to vote in 2012 but did not cast ballots.ii Thus during the last election cycle about one billion dollars was spent on television ads to collect the vote of approximately six million people. While independent campaign organizations are spending hundreds of millions on television ads to capture swing voters little to no money was allocated to mobilize the Black vote, and 23% of all registered Democrats voters are Black.iii
Political consultants should know that commercials don’t work. By far the most effective way to turn out voters is with high-quality, face-to-face conversations that urge people to vote. Research has proven that in politics, inter-personal contact is most important, and the best way for a candidate to reach voters is to speak to them face to face. High quality canvassing operations have consistently emerged as the best way to win an election. Voters contacted by mail or telephone are no more likely to vote than a voter who was not contacted at all. However, just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood of voting, boosting turnout by a whopping 20%.iv
Voters who watch a lot of television advertising for a particular candidate are no more likely to vote than voters who views barely any. Similarly there is limited evidence that TV ads have an enduring impact on voters’ attitudes towards a particular candidate.v Yet over the last three election cycles 80% of all campaign spending has gone to television ads followed by mail and online advertising, fieldwork or canvassing received less than five percent of campaign budgets.vi
Just look at the last election in Alabama. The Jones campaign didn’t intentionally win the African-American vote. Despite being told repeatedly that his victory would require a huge African-American turnout, the Jones campaign did not spend money to turnout the African-American vote. The Black vote turned out in Alabama because of the grass-root efforts of Black leaders, and organizers in Black neighborhoods across the state. Organizations such as Black-PAC blanketed the state with canvassers knocking on doors and picking people up and escorting them to the polls. These independent efforts saved the Jones campaign from its disproportionate focus on the white republican voter. The Jones campaign spent nearly nine million dollars on the campaign, about seven million dollars on television commercials aimed at white voters, and the rest on fund raising. Democrats were lucky that many groups in Alabama, especially Black women stepped in, picked up the slack and turned out the vote.
Because of their efforts Black voters were the decisive force in the election; they showed up in large numbers and cast 96% of their votes for Jones. They made up a larger percentage of the electorate than they represented in the state as a whole, 29% of the electorate to 27% of the population. How important was the Black vote in an election decided by just twenty one thousand votes? That two percent difference amounted to thirty-eight thousand more Democratic votes.vii
Its not just Alabama where the Black vote can make the critical difference, the demographics in Texas are even more favorable. Fifty-three percent of eligible voters in Texas are white; twenty-five percent of those voters are Democrats. Trump won Texas by eight hundred thousand votes, but there were four million eligible non-voting people of color in Texas in 2016, three million Latinos alone.
The average margin of victory in Georgia elections statewide has been two hundred thirty thousand votes. There are one million two hundred thousand eligible Black, Latino, and Asian voters who did not vote in the last election.
Democrats spent two million dollars on television advertising in Arizona during the last presidential election. Clinton lost the state by 90,000 votes, while 900,000 Latinos did not vote. The $2,000,000 could have paid for thousands of grass root organizers and delivered 200,000 Latino voters to the polls.
Every day 7,000 people of color are added to the population, compared with1000 whites. By 2020 the majority of eligible voters in Texas will be people of color, two years later the same thing will happen in Arizona.viii Yet when it comes to campaign spending little to nothing is spent to mobilize people of color. When Democratic political action committees (PACs) made plans for the first $100,000,000 of outside spending, no money was allocated to mobilize people of color. Later $20,000,000 was allocated to mobilize Black voters, which was less than 10% of the more than $200,000,000 that was spent by outside groups. In the last presidential election Democrats spent no money on Spanish language television in Philadelphia, and there is a huge Puerto Rican population in Philadelphia. Given the above facts why are Democrats spending tons of money in a manner that does not necessarily lead to success?
The answer may lie in the apartheid like structure of the Democratic Party. While 23% of all Democratic voters are Black, and 46% of the party base is people of color, every Democratic organization with a budget of over $30,000,000 is run by a white person. These managers seem to operate in a universe that attaches little importance to about one half of the party. Why else would the party managers continue to waste money chasing the elusive white swing vote?
Continued reliance on these campaign models does nothing to increase Black voter turn out nor does it allow Black organization a share in any portion of the billions of dollars spent on campaign advertising. Managing a quality canvassing operation requires a large number of volunteers, and a lot of training. Knocking on millions of doors requires tens of thousands field staffers. If campaign managers shared a small portion of the billions they spend on television advertising with organizations such as BlackPac, the group that turned out the vote for Doug Jones in Alabama, they could increase voter turnout significantly while raising the political consciousness of the community. But perhaps Democrats prefer things remain as they are with people of color in excluded from active participation in the party and voting for candidates that don’t share the same policy concerns.
i MinnPost, November 6, 2015: Electorate’s portion of ‘swing voters’ reaches a new low ii The Nation, November 18, 2016: It’s Time to Diversify the Democratic Party Leadership
iv Vox, November 13, 2014: Experiments Show This Is The Best Way To Win A Campaign. But Is Anyone Actually Doing It?
vii New York Times, December 15, 2017: Democrats Could Claim A New American Majority, Will They?
viii San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 2016: Democrats Should Stop Chasing the White Voter and Embrace the Future.