Campaign Motivations

What motivates people to work on campaigns? I wondered this while interacting with a number of organizers throughout the country on a few of the Democratic/Kerry mailing lists. I think it’s important for organizers to consider as they get people involved, and for volunteers to consider when choosing an organization to work with. Here’s what you should look for:

  • The message
  • The community
  • The network
  • The education
  • The revolution

I’m looking into how different grassroots promote each motivating factor. Consider the bid to unseat the President: the official groups are the Kerry for President campaign and the Democratic Party. There are also a variety of advocacy groups, such as MoveOn, America Coming Together, Howard Dean’s Democracy for America. (The Center for Responsive Politics compiles an excellent overview of advocacy groups).

My sense is that each of these motivations appeals to successively smaller groups of people– which explains why a majority of strain in a campaign is over the “message”. Here’s how I’ll measuring criteria on each of them:

1. The message is what attracts people to a campaign. You see a great ad, you hear a great speech, and you feel that the campaign has the mojo to able to able to attract more people. This is where quality video production and slick campaign paraphernalia stand out. The message sometimes reduces to just the image— as Daniel Boorstin 1961 book of that name predicted.

2. The community brings people together socially, and it keeps them together, whether local or online. A community is there to listen to you express yourself and to hear your petitions. A political rally is a community, of sorts. Communities have re-emerged has a political force through Meetups, online discussion forums, and the like. Their informality, while attractive to new users, leaves the experienced organizer wanting for something more structured.

3. The network is an extension of the community, but it emphasizes the strategic value of relationships between the members. The essence of politics, after all, is about serving people. You should desire to assist people who look up to you, and similarly, you may desire assistance or gratitude from people closer to the campaign. Such a system of favors has traditionally been frowned upon by populist activists, who decry the market for access. But, as I describe in Social Network Fundraising, recent advances in software systems have been able to extend network access to larger numbers of people.

4. The education is what enables the campaign to answer substantive questions about policy. This is what advanced volunteers and organizers need. A campaign cannot just get by with a team of experts– they need to be accessible, through a system which can accept questions publicly and route them to the right people, staff or volunteers. In many cases this is still best done over the phone as opposed to over web/email.

5. The revolution is unique to major campaigns, such as for the Presidency. Every so often, a candidate or campaign promises a new era of politics. I’m not sure if this really is a true motivator, or merely confused for one, since it is often conflated with the message.

If I have to answer what my motivations, I’d say that I’m looking for a campaign with a network: I see it as a community with a little more depth. A proper network suggests that when I contribute time, energy, and money to an organization, I would get some reciprocal recognition. I am also interested in the education component of a campaign– I think that’s a good indicator of the quality of the relationship.

Nonetheless, these components are quite systematic, and it can expected that campaigns of all types will improve them. By contrast, the message/image remains a fine art, elusive to predict, and will continue to the focus of interest in campaigns.