“Where are we going?” one man asks another as they drive along.

“I don’t know,” the other replies. “But we’re making good time.” (More)

How We Win, Part I – Goals

This week Morning Feature explores the political organizing strategies taught in the Democracy For America Campaign Academy. Today we discuss the important process of setting goals. Tomorrow we’ll see how strategic planning turns goals into action steps. Saturday we’ll conclude with how to be more effective in action.

About the Campaign Academy

Democracy For America was founded in 2004 by former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, and has grown to over a million members nationwide. DFA members are committed to changing our country and the Democratic Party from the ground up, advocating for progressive issues and candidates at all levels of government. Their Campaign Academy brings together activists, candidates, and experienced professionals for a weekend of intensive workshops, to build a grassroots infrastructure of skilled progressive activists. DFA also offer an online Night School for those who cannot attend an Academy, and for Academy graduates who want to further hone their skills.

I attended the Campaign Academy this past weekend in Tampa, and it was an amazing experience. I learned more nuts-and-bolts politicking in two days than I had picked up over my entire lifetime. This week’s Morning Feature series will summarize what I thought were the key points of the training, but it will be only a brief summary. The training manual is over 150 pages. Please attend a DFA Campaign Academy and/or enroll in the online Night School.

SMART – Setting Effective Goals

Most of us have been involved in efforts that ran much like the introductory joke about the two men in a car: we don’t know where we’re going, but we’re making good time. Without goals and plans to achieve them, activity is rarely effective action.

Any good plan begins with setting goals. Not just any goals, but SMART goals:

  • Specific – Vague goals are little better than no goal at all. Specific goals are tangible; they can be seen or touched.
  • Measurable – Specific goals can also be counted, not in rounded guesses but in precise calculations or estimates.
  • Action-oriented – Good goals are and evoke visible action.
  • Realistic – If you always meet your goals, your goals aren’t high enough. If you never meet your goals, your goals are dreams.
  • Timely – Aspirations may be infinite, but goals have deadlines.

Example – You want a rally to support a county initiative at the courthouse. You want 128 people, enough to fill the courthouse steps. You want 3 speakers: 1 from your local party, 1 from an issue advocacy group, and 1 professional or academic expert. You want the rally covered in 3 print stories, 2 radio reports, 3 local TV reports, and front page articles on 2 political websites. The county commission will vote on the initiative on August 9th, so the rally will be held from noon to 1pm on the day before the vote, August 8th.

Each of those goals is specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic (in a fair-sized city), and timely. Remember: “Some” is not a number, “someday” is not a time, and “someone” is no one.

Know the Terrain

You can sometimes set SMART goals with three or four people tossing ideas around a table, based on a general understanding or prior experience with a similar project. More often, good goals require detailed knowledge. Elections come down to votes. But “more votes than my opponent” is not a goal. It’s too vague, and by the time you can measure it you will probably have lost … because the campaign lacked SMART goals and an effective plan to reach them.

Example – Cindy Candidate is running in District Two in 2012. District Two includes Precinct 1 (740 registered voters, 32% expected turnout), Precinct 2 (446 and 55%), Precinct 3 (436 and 51%), Precinct 4 (599 and 42%), Precinct 5 (686 and 42%), and Precinct 6 (1002 and 48%).

The expected turnout isn’t a guess. It’s based on the turnout in the last similar election: that race or a similar race, in a general election, in a presidential year. Note that these turnouts are lower than typical presidential election turnouts, which average about 55%, because not every voter votes in every race on the ballot. Cindy doesn’t need enough votes in District Two to defeat the GOP presidential candidate. She needs enough votes to defeat her own opponent.

How many votes is that? Multiply each precinct’s registered voters by its expected turnout, add them up, and you get total expected vote in Cindy’s race: 1747 votes. Cindy needs 50% + 1, or 874 votes. But that leaves no margin for error. DFA research says Cindy should aim for 52% of the expected total vote, so her target is 913 votes.

But wait. Fifty-two percent of 1747 is 908. Why does Cindy need 913 votes?

Because Cindy doesn’t target her district as a whole. She calculated the expected vote in each precinct, and she sets vote targets in each precinct: 124 votes in Precinct 1, 128 in Precinct 2, 124 in Precinct 3, 135 in Precinct 4, 151 in Precinct 5, and 251 in Precinct 6. And those initial precinct targets add up to 913.

SWOT – Know the Terrain Better.

Those goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented (we’ll talk tomorrow about how), and timely (you need them by the time the polls close on election day). But how realistic are they? To answer that question, you need to know the terrain better. You need to know your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). The SWOT principles apply to all elements of planning, but in vote targeting for an election they come down to two key numbers:

  • Democratic Performance Index (DPI) – Not all registered Democrats vote for Democrats, and not all votes for Democrats are cast by registered Democrats. The DPI is the average percentage of votes for viable Democratic candidates in each precinct over the past three similar elections. A viable candidate is one who ran an active campaign. A similar election is that race or other races in that district with similar voter turnout.
  • Persuadable Voter Index (PVI) – Not all voters vote for the same party in each race, or in each election. The PVI is based on the average percentage of votes cast for the three least-successful Democrats (whose supporters would presumably vote for Any Democrat) and the three least-successful Republicans (whose supporters would presumably vote for Any Republican) in similar elections. Add those two percentages and subtract from 100 to get the PVI for each precinct.

Example – In District Two, the numbers for each precinct are: Precinct 1 (DPI 69%, PVI 12%), Precinct 2 (DPI 21%, PVI 8%), Precinct 3 (DPI 36%, PVI 33%), Precinct 4 (DPI 43%, PVI 19%), Precinct 5 (DPI 38%, PVI 39%), and Precinct 6 (DPI 48%, PVI 21%).

Multiplying each precinct’s expected turnout by its DPI, Cindy can expect 163 votes in Precinct 1, 51 in Precinct 2, 85 in Precinct 3, 110 in Precinct 4, 109 in Precinct 5, and 230 in Precinct 6. That’s a problem, because those total only 748 votes … 165 short of her vote target of 913.

But if we multiply each precinct’s expected turnout by its PVI, we find there are 28 persuadable voters in Precinct 1, 20 in Precinct 2, 78 in Precinct 3, 50 in Precinct 4, 112 in Precinct 5, and 101 in Precinct 6. That’s a total of 382 persuadable voters in District Two … and Cindy needs 165 of those persuadable voters to reach her 52% vote target.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about where Cindy’s campaign plans to get those 165 persuadable voters, and how her campaign plans to get them.


Happy Thursday!