Analysis and Improvement, Part 1

by: Adam Bink

Thu Nov 05, 2009 at 11:45

Since I got back from Maine yesterday, I've been thinking about a few topics- tactics for achieving LGBT marriage equality; how progressive allies organize and operated around elections this year; and where we go from here. This is a piece analyzing some of the successes and failures in operations around the election. Part 2 is here.

1. The No On 1 campaign and LGBT allies. I spent several months working with the campaign and their online operation, including the final few weeks on the ground. I thought the campaign's operations were stellar. The decision-making process was streamlined, our ads were great, the online team and allies who joined us was honed, the fundraising gave us the resources we needed (second-highest total for a ballot initiative in Maine ever), the organizing and donation of resources from allied LGBT organizations was solid, the external organizing of Maine surrogates and supportive religious groups was good.

More than a few people I talked to in or allied with the campaign on the ground expressed problems with the field model- valuing door knocks over contacts; insisting that fundraising as part of a field script continue late in the game despite the fact that we were in amazing shape financially and losing volunteers who were unwilling to fundraise; and a number of other issues. One external allied partner who did field in Prop 8- which, by all accounts, had close to zero effective field operations- were working with the campaign in Maine as well, which may have been a mistake. I was told by one field expert that if turnout is below 45%, we're screwed; if we break turnout above 45%, we're in better shape; and if it's above 55%, they're screwed. Turnout was at 58.5%- a state record for an odd-year election. And we still lost. In two consecutive ballot elections on marriage we've fallen short in part because of field, and that is something serious that needs to be addressed.

2. Undecided voters. I can't give specific numbers, but there was an expectation on the ground that undecideds, which were a significant chunk in polling, would break our way. They ended up almost all breaking towards the Yes side. Whether it was because of our own version of the "Bradley effect" is unclear, but it was a factor.

3. Tunnel vision by progressive allies. I have to say first that the netroots, including you, were incredibly supportive, and I can never thank you and others around the blogosphere enough. There are too many folks to thank.

That said, working in Portland running on no sleep on Monday, the following infuriated me:

(a) A moneybomb for Alan Grayson was launched on Monday, the day before the election (yes, I'm aware OpenLeft participated). Not only was over $500,000 raised for it at the same time as we were frantically raising to counter an opposition media buy, it took up space on other blogs where others could have urged people to GOTV in Maine, and clogged inboxes while we were trying to ask for GOTV help in Maine. Folks will say that they also posted asks for Maine or other races, but they know full well people do not have time to read every single blog post or devote time or money towards every single e-mail blast, and this was not timed well.

(b) Also on Monday, I got an e-mail from the DSCC asking me to give money to "support our Democratic majority". Last I checked, our Democratic majority is being voted on in 365 days. My election was the next day. Which is a higher priority?

(c) Also on Monday, Organizing For America clogged my inbox on Monday with an e-mail titled "Remember" asking me to- get this- "share a brief story about your best memory of the final days of the campaign" in some sort of one-year anniversary celebration. This is the best use of activists' time and attention the day before an election?

I'm not saying these elements would have made the difference between a win and a loss, but online activists do not have a bottomless pit of money and time and attention, and they could have been better used. The "we can walk and chew gum at the same time" only works if there is enough gum to go around. That's the same stupid rationale that gave us the National Equality March, another suck of people's time and money in a limited resource environment. There is no reason- none- why any of these e-mails could not have been launched on Wednesday, Nov. 4th. In fact, that might have made for better returns. "Last night, progressives got hammered across the country. Contribute to Grayson/the DSCC/OFA to make sure we don't lose key races in 2010".

4. Organizing For America/Obama refusing to help to the point of sucking away resources. In the following ways:

(a) As John Aravosis reported, OFA did a GOTV blast on Monday. Without asking supporters to vote No On 1. But they asked New Jersey voters to support Corzine and Virginia voters to support Deeds. What would a No ask have cost them? Obama already came out against the measure.

(b) Following that, I got back to my supporter housing on Monday night to be told by Alison, who was hosting me, that she received an e-mail asking her to call five voters in not Maine, but New Jersey, which John later reported on AMERICABlog. She's lived in Maine for 17 years and was a prominent local activist. Another person came forward to say they received the same e-mail. OFA refused to comment.

(c) The DNC contributed $25,000 to No On 8 last year. Stonewall Democrats asked them to contribute to No On 1. They refused. As we were doing a frantic fundraiser to up our media buy on Monday- with a goal of, you guessed it, $25,000- it occurred to me it would have been nice to have had that money from them. Nope. Zero.

(d) When asked its position on the initiative, the White House earlier issued issued a tepid, vanilla, "discrimination always sucks" statement without mentioning the words "Maine" "No" "Question 1" or anything that would, you know, actually influence Obama fans in Maine to vote No or support the campaign in a tangible way. What would such a statement have cost him?

The failure of the OFA and Obama to stand up for LGBT families here is just stunning. No, OFA, I will not be sending in my favorite memory of working my ass off to elect an Administration that barely lays a finger to help us win our own elections one year later. Thanks for nothing.

A lot of people are chiding to not do finger-pointing and laying blame. But there is a difference between blame and asking for better performance. This is not a "progressive allies/bad field/OFA/Obama lost the election for us" piece. I don't believe that they did. But I do think better actions could have been taken. We need to learn from our mistakes, debate strategy in places like OpenLeft, and do better next time in the areas where it's possible.

Adam Bink :: Analysis and Improvement, Part 1

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Who determined that undecided would break for us? (0.00 / 0)
Moreover, who were the undecideds?  

If you know .. (0.00 / 0)
please do give us a sense of who the "undecideds" were? Did the campaign have the capacity to target them?

If there weren't good answers to those questions, it becomes really hard to improve field.

Can it happen here?

[ Parent ]
Well fought, Adam (4.00 / 11)
Considering the disappointment, this is an amazingly balanced summary, and I think that your criticisms are more than justified. And before I forget, thank you and your colleagues for your efforts. The time may not be now, but it will be soon, sooner than anyone would have had a right to hope for, without folks like you fighting for us.

"But I do think better actions could have been taken." Exactly, Adam! (0.00 / 0)
All you're telling us points to a serious lack of coordination. And it sure looks like the rethugs are muchz better at that, judging from the way their talking points spread so fast, and from the "all in" way right wingers jump on every opportunity to advance their agenda. Left wingers ssem to be much more divided, obsessed with their own goals, and in danger of missing the big picture. This has to change!

So, the problem is obvious, but what is the solution? Not being an activist, I can only think of "more communication". And if people are reluctant to participate, it's obviously necessary to remind them that support can't be a one way street. Liberals want the LGBT movement to close ranks, ok. But then they have to be there when you call them, too. Its theories of games 101, a simple tit for tat game. And theory tells us the winning move after your partner failed you is to retaliate, an eye for an eye, while communicating that this is just payback, but wthtout letting this escalate. Just let those people learn their lesson that it doesn't pay off to take your donations without returnbing the favor.

Well, as I said, this is a purely theoretical approach. I would like to see the advice of seasoned activists like Chris on how to cope with such a situation.

And I wonder if maybe it wouldn't have made any decisive difference if everything had gone perfectly well, and if this was simply coming to soon for the people in Maine, who seem to be quite a bit behind the curve...

I'm not saying we shouldn't ask for (4.00 / 3)
better performance, I'm saying we should wonder if better performance--if perfect performance--would've won the day. At some point, you have to wonder if we're not fighting such ingrained bigotry that--this year, at least--there is no turnout operation that's gonna overcome it, like no turnout operation would've legalized interracial marriage by ballot question in Alabama in 1962. Or 1972. Or 1982 ...

I guess I just hate that we have to fundraise and beg and struggle for basic equal rights.

And re. OFA/Obama: Obama would've voted Yes on One. He opposes marriage equality. It's not a big surprise that OFA didn't donate to a cause they oppose.

At the end of my piece (4.00 / 3)
I wrote:

This is not a "progressive allies/bad field/OFA/Obama lost the election for us" piece. I don't believe that they did.

So, no, I don't believe better performance would have won the day. I think they would have brought us closer to victory, and I think correcting these mistakes so they don't occur in an election we lose by 200 votes is important. In the election where we lose by 200 votes, these things matter.

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[ Parent ]
Obama voters weren't the problem... (0.00 / 0)
They came out in droves and actions by the president would not have changed the outcome one bit.... Obama has little influence on the YES voters...

Still, it would have been nice to see the president stand up for something...  he's crawled into his White House cave and is no longer fighting for anything anymore, whether it be this or the public option or Afghanistan or whatever...  If it may be the slightest bit controversial, he stays away.

There's been a stunning lack of leadership at the White House on a wide range of issues, and it's getting quite maddening....  

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

Action by Obama (4.00 / 1)
First, there are undecided voters- Democrats among them- who broke yes, and I believe action by Obama has influence on that.

Second, action by Obama is also targeted at firing up base supporters to volunteer, give, and do other actions that help us win. Ergo, why I criticized the e-mail asking Maine voters to work in New Jersey.

But overall I agree with the rest of your feelings on the WH.

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[ Parent ]
Beyond Obama, I don't think ANY politico is going to move forward to act (4.00 / 1)
In the face of this loss. I think that most politicos have pretty much adopted the civil unions line as the most progressive point that they can embrace.

Frankly, the common thought seems to be if not in Cali or Maine where can gay marriage when at the ballot box?

I think that a major focus should then be changing the Supreme Court and that is where donors and others not demanding a line be drawn on Alito is hurting folks now. It's going to take time to change the federal courts and that is why we've seen unprecedented delay by Senate Republicans on judicial issues. Activists need to make this a major issue and focus on the courts as a whole because in the end civil rights for AAs came from the courts and were enforced by the courts.

That means lighting a fire under Leahy and helping Obama move as many federal judicial nominations as he can. That helps him politically and helps the community.


[ Parent ]
Having been in Maine (4.00 / 2)
and helped out on No on 1...if the ads didn't change the minds of undecided voters, Obama wouldn't have.

I don't believe there's a such thing as undecided in an election like this...those who voted Yes were always going to vote Yes, the question was whether or not they voted at all.  

[ Parent ]
Being a Mainer (4.00 / 1)
I'd agree with this comment.  If you spend any time in the state outside of downtown Portland and the touristy parts of the coast, you'd come away amazed that Q1 could get 47% of the vote.

Turnout was what killed us, and it was driven by the strong religious backing behind the referendum.  The Catholic Bishop, head of a church with more than 200,000 members in the state, was the prime mover in getting this on the ballot.  There's also a strong fundamentlist streak in rural Maine, and you saw the efforts of all those little churches in the GOTV.

I'm sure there were miscalculations - I heard those predictions re: turnout, too, and thought they were nuts.  The campaign did an excellent job of turning out their supporters, but it just wasn't enough.  People weren't quite ready.  Waiting another year or two for this bill would have been a better strategy, imo.  Please remember we've had 4 LBGT-related votes in the past 10 years in Maine, so there's some fatigue, too.

The general tenor of the campaign, and the TV ads especially, did move the cause forward, though. I'd argue that lots of "Undecideds" actually did move into the "no" column, but long before those polls were taken.  I heard from several people who were swayedby the ads.

[ Parent ]
Field (4.00 / 1)
I am not convinced by your argument about why the field campaign was ineffective. You state that the campaign was more concerned with doors knocked than with contacts - OK, but how do you actually get more contacts - (especially when many people are at work during the day or enjoy a sunny weekend day). Would you suggest more phone contacts (more contacts, but less effective)?

From what I have seen (and read from thousands of miles away), the problem was where the canvassing was directed. Portland was a solid victory for "No" as were the college towns, but the campaign was lost in the medium-sized cities (including Augusta) and in the more rural parts of the state.

In a campaign about civil rights, I think you need to do more than getting out the vote, getting out your base, but you need to keep working on persuasion in areas that may not be as favorable to our cause.

Certainly, there are other factors that contributed to the No on One loss, but again, I think that you are missing the point on how the field campaign in Maine misfired.


Excellent post! (0.00 / 0)
One of the toughest things anyone can do is engage in critical self-evaluation.  It's good to recognize where we went wrong and learn from it so we don't repeat these mistakes in the future.

Single-Payer is the ONLY viable public option.

Why Not Blame? (0.00 / 0)
It's my perception that Obama only pays attention to those who cause him problems or at least threaten to.

So if you're not going to blame him for his multifacted lack of support, aren't you essentially tying your own hands?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Interpretation of blame (4.00 / 1)
Well, I certainly think that myself, Aravosis, Sudbay, Pam Spaulding, and others writing pointing out their screw-ups are causing him problems. I do blame him/OFA for the reasons I laid out. My point is it's dishonest to say their actions, or lack thereof, lost would have switched 31,909 votes.

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[ Parent ]
No on 1 lost b/c of bigotry. (4.00 / 2)
I'm not going to say don't hit the president or OFA. Don't hit Alan Grayson for the moneybomb. But I am going to say this was not the point.

From what I've read and seen online No on 1 had a great deal of volunteers. You out raised the Yes on 1 campaign.

And medical marijuana passed and TABOR failed.

I saw a great post that Yes on 1 carried the suburban soccer moms.

While No on 1 performed very well in Portland, even in the cities where no did in fact win, the margins were not nearly as high as was needed.  Consider that Bangor and Scarborough only saw "no" victories of about 9% overall.  That same level of separation was also present in Westbrook, Waterville, Gorham, York, Kennebunk, Wells and Topsham.

In other words, in those more urban/suburban areas where No on 1 really badly needed large margins of victory, they were only able to pull in minor spreads.

This is important, because we all knew that the more remote, rural areas of Maine were going to come in heavily against gay marriage, so these large population centers needed to deliver in a big way to offset that.

Aroostook County, for example weighed in heavily for Yes on 1, contributing a net of 12,000 votes and beating No on 1 by a whopping 73%-27% margin.  Franklin County, Oxford County and Somerset County all weighed in decisively for Yes on 1 as well.

But even more damaging were Kennebec County (delivering a net of 7,000 votes for Yes) and Penobscot County (11,000), both of which hold a strong number of votes and represent a mix of urban, suburban, and rural voters.

This was the real battlefield where No on 1 lost.  These voters - and their cousins in other counties - are not "back country hicks" - even though some areas of those counties are remote.  I myself am from Penobscot country (Hampden, specifically - which incidentally went for Yes 53%-47% for those of you keeping score), and a great deal of these people represent the typical "suburban swing voter".  In other words, many of them work white collar jobs, live in mostly nice neighborhoods within striking distance of a city, and are pliable for whichever side makes the better case.  We are not talking about culturally conservative "Deliverance" type areas here - this is the home of Maine's soccer moms.

The failure of No on 1 to make any inroads in these types of voters is what ultimately doomed them. The people who live in townships and in the shadows of mountains may have been decidedly against gay marriage, but they don't represent anywhere near enough votes to offset what happened in Portland and other No on 1 cities.  This fight was lost among the middle class voters of "middle Maine", and it was lost badly.

The question going forward for gay rights advocates has to be, "now what?"  This fight wasn't just lost, it was lost handily, and there is no way I see this question coming up again and seeing a different result.  Will we now see a push for a Civil Union bill as some form of compromise?  Will we see activists pushing the courts to pull a Massachusetts?  We shall see - but one thing is clear:  for all of its reputation as a "liberal stronghold", Maine remains more culturally conservative than not.

I read that the New Hampshire rights are to be challenged next. My thinking is that this is going to have to go through the courts and/or given time for the electorate to change. On the plus side, I think R71 "everything but marriage" passing shows another promising path as the fight moves to the courts and demographically. And as that happens, the fight on these ballot initiatives continues.

Ouch, "Maine's soccer moms" made me think "hockey moms"... nt (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Um, do you have any evidence that this was female-specific? (0.00 / 0)
You haven't presented any here, so thus far this looks an awful lot like cheap misogyny.

[ Parent ]
Isn't it sad how in this case (0.00 / 0)
state legislatures are ahead of the people?

[ Parent ]
There was an eerie silence (4.00 / 1)
when I was in Maine last month in some parts of the state.

I was helping out on Mount Desert Island and we were very focused on moblizing those who opposed the measure and we were successfull in doing so. Every town on the island voted No, Bar Harbor overwhelmingly...even in the most conservative part of the island; Tremont, No carried 53%-47%

Everyone I talked to was more than happy to vote No, there were very few undecideds, very few "eh, I'm not sures" The yes people didn't talk to us at all and basically avoided us...gave us the erroneous impression that while they were against gay marriage, they weren't terrible interested in the whole debate.

On the mainland, in the town of Ellsworth, the Hancock County Democratic Party's office went headfirst into No, that was their major base of operations. We won the day in Hancock County, our expectations were met, but we expected a bigger margin of victory. We won Hancock 53%-47%, when I was there, the field directors were expecting a 10-12 point Hancock win. Hancock had gone to Obama 59%-39%. In the end I was surprised to see we lost the largest towns in the county; Ellsworth and Bucksport.

Why I don't see any point in blaming the national party or Obama is that A.) he couldn't change minds and B.) he couldn't change turnout. Turnout in Bar Harbor was about 2500, only 600 less than the number that turned out last year. That's fantanstic IMO. 78% of the number that turned out last year...more than who turned out in the 2006 midterms. The margins were roughly the same, 72%-28% for marriage equality, close to Obama's margin in the town.

In Ellsworth, turnout was also 78% what it was in 2008, but a town that went 52%-48% for Obama went 54%-46% against marriage equality.

So the end result is, we turned out our voters, but they had more...there's nothing we could've done to change that short of changing minds (which is nearly impossible to do in a few months time) or finding some way of suppressing their vote.  

[ Parent ]
to drive home the point (0.00 / 0)
some of "our" voters were on their side.  

[ Parent ]
thanks for your efforts (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Blame, but Rethink (4.00 / 2)
I agree with your post, Adam.  I think all of those things would have HELPED, but perhaps not been decisive.  And I, too, an ardent supporter/campaigner for Obama and the Democratic candidate for House of Representatives in freaking Mississippi!, am very frustrated with the President and the Democratic Party for their willingness to use us and then discard us.  I think you are addressing those issues.

I am also sure there are strategic things that you know so much more than I about how to get the job done.  So I'm learning from what you're saying.

With all of that being said, I think the real soul-searching has to be "how do we break through to these people?".  I am really at a loss as to that one.  Do we get tough, or is that a turn-off for too many?  Do we point out where they are leading us as a country, or is that really what they want?  I think we have to find some way to turn around and use what they perceive as their "strengths"--such as Christianity, patriotism--against them.  They seem quite strong in their defenses, but everyone has a weakness that can be exploited.  I hope those of you smarter than I can figure out how to do this.  

Right! The reach-out part is the important point. (4.00 / 1)
And I think that it has to be made real personal. What if your kid, or grand child would turn out to be gay? Wouldn't you want him/her to have the chance to enjoy all the positive sides of a marriage, too? Would you think him/her finding a partner for life is a threat for society?

Or what about gay people you know, at work or in the neighborhood? Are you really afraid of them? Do you really think they could endanger your marriage?

As I see it, you need real life examples to make people think about the consequences of their decisions. However, I hate knocking on doors and I once was a horrible failure as a salesman, so what do i know...

[ Parent ]
Thank you for your leadership on this Adam (4.00 / 2)
This kind of work not easy, and I admire you commitment and tenacity.

National Nurses United (AFL-CIO) is America's RN union, representing 150,000+ nurses from all 50 states.

Focus groups? (4.00 / 2)
The same old tired arguments are trotted out and seem to work.  The schools.  Harvey Milk demolished that one 30 years ago.  Thirty years ago Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were both strongly in the pro-gay camp.  Now, decency is thrown aside.

I had relatives (in PA no less) who pushed the Readers Digest line that Martin Luther King was a communist.  Well, I knew enough to argue against that one.  Civil rights opposition became somewhat unacceptable.  It is past time that gay rights opposition becomes unacceptable.

Somebody needs to do focus groups on those soccer dads to prevent middle Maines and LA counties from sinking these votes.  What is moving them?  How can they be reached?

Once No started to stall in the last few days I knew.  In fact I predicted Yes would win 53-47 on Swingstate Project (wish I was wrong).

As an aside, the Bangor Daily News reported that when the result was finally announced, only 40 anti-gay supporters remained at their party.  There wasn't strong popular opposition just the bishop and auto pilot.  Unlock the key and this was winnable and  a lot of the "front" and swagger would have disappeared.

We start winning these and it will quickly be unacceptable to be an openly anti-gay bigot.

Reagan was strongly in the pro-gay camp??? (0.00 / 0)
What alternate universe are you speaking of?  The one without an AIDS epidemic, perhaps?

[ Parent ]
See the movie Milk (0.00 / 0)
That was the crusher argument.  And it makes sense.  All those years in Hollywood did a small amount of good.

[ Parent ]
Read this... (0.00 / 0)
and decide which President was a hero for gay rights, and which two are posers.

[ Parent ]
We have to ask the question: Could we really have done any better? (4.00 / 1)
What makes this defeat sting in particular is that No on 1 had everything going for it.  This wasn't like No on 8 in CA where everyone was too busy paying attention to Mr. Hope to care about gay rights.  It seems like in ME we were organized and well-funded, against a bumbling opposition using the same tired arguments.  And yet we still lost.

Is turnout the issue?  It hit almost 60 percent but were those our voters or theirs?

Was it complacency (sorta like it was in CA)?  I know I thought that No on 1 was going to win for sure.  Maybe people who otherwise would've helped in the closing days thought that No on 1 would win and so instead decided to relax or help in a closer race.

Ultimately, it might just be that people don't like same-sex marriage, unfortunately, and that no amount of ads or Obama time is going to change that.  The good news, as many point out, is that in the long-run we've already won this fight, and it's really not a matter of if but when.

And we've already made huge progress.  It was just five years ago that same-sex marriage was viewed as a huge political taboo.  Now it's the opponents of same-sex marriage that have to defend themselves against charges of bigotry and closed-mindedness.  And if there really is a Bradley-type effect in polling that's tremendously great progress, since it shows that sexual orientationism, like racism before it, is becoming socially disreputable, something that can only be expressed in the privacy of the secret ballot.  It shifts the burden of defense from the "gay freaks" to the anti-gay bigots.

I do think, however, that we need to reevaluate how to fight for same-sex marriage in statewide initiatives before we dump more money and time into future same-sex marriage campaigns, like in CA.

We need a permanent field operation (4.00 / 1)
The 50 state strategy was built to create a Democratic majority, then it was disbanded.  The Obama campaign created a similar operation, and then it was disbanded.  Continually building and then disbanding for each election or initiative is madness.

There is way too much attention on politics as advertising. That sort of top down approach continues to dominate the Democratic Party.  The kind of organizing that needs to take place can only happen at the state and local level - both professional and volunteer organizers. Some of the pieces are already there in some places - community groups, unions, local Democratic parties.  In order to do that, we'll need to build stronger ties among core Democratic constituencies, and to build stronger conceptual ties between various progressive causes.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

The lack of support from Obama and OFA is stunning? (0.00 / 0)

Because it seems to me Obama and his campaign (which OFA is essentially an extension of) have been slapping gays and lesbians around at least since he had Donnie McLurkin tour for him, which was announced in October 2007.

To me, the thing that's stunning is that Obama has any GLBT supporters left.  Or that anyone would be surprised that Obama would fail to support gays and lesbians since that's all he's done for two years.  


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