The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory

For youth organizations, the concept of peer-to-peer campaigning is nothing new. The Young Democrats of America have used peer-to-peer as the core of their campaigns for years, and organizations like the Bus Project have been innovating in the field with such methods. The Obama campaign embraced peer-to-peer as the most effective way to get voters to show up to the polls, especially new and infrequent voters. As Plouffe says, “the best way to get new people to caucuses and polls was to have a family member, friend, or neighbor ask them to go.”

Peer-to-peer served multiple purposes for the Obama campaign: turnout and GOTV, list-building, and persuasion. Using peer-to-peer to build strong organizations in the states was elevated in the Obama campaign more than in presidential campaigns in the past:

This time I believed that our state campaigns should be the driving factor. Registering voters, person-to-person persuasion, building strong local organizations, boosting turnout where we needed to, and gathering as big an e-mail list as possible would be more important than advertising to our ultimate success. It is much more effective to throw late-stage surplus funds on TV than to field operations, which need time and infrastructure to grow.

Peer-to-peer grows organically, and as such it takes time to coalesce into an effective state or local organization. Friends, family, and neighbors recruit friends, family, and neighbors, who in turn reach out to their own networks. Young voters talk to and organize other young voters at the places where they live and hang out. The Obama campaigns state organizations were built on person-to-person outreach and trust, which made them very strong and cohesive as they grew.

Trust and similarity make for effective organizers:

We believed local people talking to their neighbors, friends, and family, to address these doubts, could create a permission structure whereby voters rationalized, ‘Well, you’re supporting him enthusiastically . We think alike, live the same types of lives. You see something in him, and that’s important to me.’

The campaign’s message is much more convincing when delivered by a trusted person or someone who seems to be in a similar place in life. They Obama campaign took advantage of this by making sure every supporter was equipped with the right message:

Through e-mailed talking points, postings on the website, and conversations with local field organizers, our volunteers were stressing the same arguments Obama, Biden, Ax, and Gibbs were delivering on any given day. Our philosophy was that John from Durango needed to be as current on the campaign as the candidate was. We wanted to build a message-delivery army in perfect harmony from top to bottom.

Because this organizing was being done by volunteers and supporters, and these supporters were encouraged to be unyielding in their efforts, they were able to focus on non-traditional voters and not solely a traditional campaign universe:

Our supporters’ involvement couldn’t end at making calls or knocking on doors from preapproved lists; they had to approach everyone they could, no matter their electoral history, and make a personal case for why their targets should support Obama. It was the surest way to expand the electorate in our favor.

The Obama campaign proved to many doubters what youth organizers have been saying for years: peer-to-peer wins elections.

Check out the other posts in this series:
Young Voters in The Audacity to Win
Technology in The Audacity to Win