As we advance through this election year, Swing Blue Alliance’s corps of veteran campaigners are ready and willing. That’s the baseline finding of a survey of more than 2000 volunteers from the 2020 election cycle, carried out by Ron Rapoport and Drew Englehart, two political scientists, last year.
The survey explored the preferences and interests of SBA volunteers. Here are the key results:
SBA Volunteers Have High Levels of Participation
Of the volunteers surveyed, 95% worked in some way to elect Democratic candidates in 2020. Whether by donating money (83%), persuading friends (63%), writing letters and postcards (59%), or directly contacting voters by phone or door to door (57%), Swing Blue volunteers showed up. And they felt they made a difference. Most felt that their financial contributions counted the most, closely followed by personal persuasion. About a third of the volunteers rated campaign activities such as postcarding, canvassing, or phone banking as their most useful contribution, while only a small fraction gave high ratings to social media.
SBA Volunteers Participated in a Variety of Actions
SBA attracts a committed group of activists: When asked specifically about Swing Blue actions, about half campaigned with letters or postcards, while a third reached out to voters by phone. Face-to-face events such as rallies and canvassing were lower — about 10% — although the surveyors believe these numbers were kept low by COVID restrictions. When asked what they were likely to do going forward, the majority of SBA volunteers (72%) named postcards and letters. Interestingly, though, their second choice (42%) was attending peaceful demonstrations, ahead of phoning or canvassing.
SBA Volunteers Prefer Nonpartisan Messages
Volunteers were most interested in urging people to vote, or giving them information or assistance — think mail-in ballots — in voting. These nonpartisan civic interventions attracted more than 60% of volunteers, more than twice the number who wanted to work directly for Democratic candidates. And although social pressure messaging is known to be effective, only a small number of volunteers were willing to engage in it.
SBA Volunteers are Committed to Voter Registration and Out-of-State Canvassing
The surveyors were surprised at the popularity of two fairly big commitments among SBA volunteers. Nearly 20% expressed an interest in registering voters on college campuses, while a similar number said they would go out of state to work for candidates. This suggests that SBAers are a determined bunch, willing to go the extra mile for what they believe in.
SBA Volunteers Care About…
Which issues do Swing Blue volunteers care most about? Depends on when you ask. Back in August, when Republicans were writing voter suppression laws to support the Big Lie, voting rights was a primary concern. Later in the fall, though, after the Glasgow climate conference and a devastating IPCC report, climate had become issue #1. One consistent fact: Swing Blue folks strongly supported President Biden and felt his priorities mirrored their own, with one notable difference: SBA voters did not share Biden’s strong attention to the job market.
SBA Volunteers Are Pragmatic
SBA volunteers want to elect progressive Democrats, but what they want even more is to win elections. While roughly a third stated a preference for electing progressives, two-thirds said they wanted to work for whichever Democrats would best match their district and thus have the greatest chance of winning election. These folks want to govern.
What does this data tell us about SBA moving forward? First of all, the organization has high morale. SBAers participated at high levels, whether in donating money or time or care. Most felt that the financial part was the most crucial, but most also wanted to campaign actively. The data make clear that postcards and letters are the preferred mode, well above phone banking, but in-person contacts of all sorts may return to popularity once COVID concerns relax. Persuading friends remains a highly effective action, while a surprising number of people want to take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations.
SBA volunteers are motivated by their progressive values, but their priorities change somewhat in response to events. The war in Ukraine or the report of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack or some other unpredictable event may change their priorities down the road, but will probably not dim their enthusiasm. This is a group of experienced campaigners with a strong commitment to protecting our democracy in any way they can. They are willing to work and they want to win.
On to the 2022 campaign!
Brent Whelan is a retired teacher, a climate activist, and writer of postcards to swing state voters. He lives in Allston, MA.