Favorite

Arkansas's Dems must learn from Obama 

Many of Arkansas's Democratic candidates have avoided speaking Barack Obama's name throughout his years on the national scene. However, if the party is to retain two preeminent state offices in 2014, it will need to borrow the techniques of the Obama operation crucial to his 2012 victory.

On Election Night 2012, the president spent a section of his victory speech noting the work of "the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics." Such hyperbole is common on Election Night, but in this case the praise was well-deserved. The Obama campaign operation was exceptional because of its embrace of a system that uses new data collection techniques and new technologies to re-create an older style of politics focused on communicating with individual voters on their own terms about the issues driving their attitudes.

The database, constantly being updated, is used not only to track where voters' minds are but also as a virtual Rolodex from which volunteer leaders and worker bees can be drawn by paid staff. Since time-intensive door-to-door campaigning and phone banking is central to the system both as an outreach technique as well as a way of updating voters' information, a key component of those staffers' training is how to empower locally connected volunteers who have a unique capability to have honest conversations with their neighbors. Thus, the Obama system melds new technology with old-fashioned person power.

Slate.com writer Sasha Issenberg's "The Victory Lab" was published before the election, but it tells the story of the evolution of this component of the campaign where Team Obama trounced its Republican opponent (and, importantly, went well beyond its effective, but more haphazard, Obama 2008 efforts). In a series recently published in MIT's Technology Review, Issenberg updates his book relying upon interviews with key Obama operatives now liberated to tell the story of the operation.

Now, more than ever, Arkansas Democrats — with a history of employing resources primarily on television and radio advertising — must similarly embrace new ways of doing politics. To win elections in this newly competitive environment, statewide Democratic candidates have to maximize turnout in core Democratic communities, ascertain on a daily basis the issues driving the attitudes of "rural swing" voters with a fleeting history of voting Democratic, and identify new voters in growing Northwest Arkansas that the party has historically ignored. (It's important to note that Washington and Benton counties trailed only Pulaski County in the number of votes provided to President Obama in the state in 2012.)

The Obama system, sensitive to such local peculiarities, is what is needed to meet these complicated times for Arkansas Democrats as they seek to protect Sen. Mark Pryor, the party's last outpost in the congressional delegation, and the governorship (a feat made decidedly more complicated because of the events of the past days).

For reasons that have nothing to do with lingering ambivalence towards Obama himself, however, the dynamics of Arkansas politics create some real barriers to bringing the system here. First, aside from basic voting history and superficial demographic information, the databases of Arkansas's political parties are in particular messy shape because there has not been a competitive statewide general election here since Mark Pryor's first election in 2002. Those who do campaigns don't know much about voters' predilections at the individual level. An investment in purchasing commercially available data about voters will be a start, but it is an expensive undertaking and the organization must be in place to perfect that data across time to truly understand what makes voters tick.

Even more challenging is using that data to bring new volunteers into the system. With the exception of Vic Snyder's congressional campaigns, contemporary Arkansas campaigns beyond the local level have not been volunteer-oriented affairs. Campaigns will have to shift resources from television to hire and base staff all over the state to pull volunteers into the system. This must occur in a place where folks are not used to being asked to join such causes. A culture change in Arkansas politics will have to occur as campaigns welcome in new activists — and provide them legitimate leadership roles — rather than maintaining a somewhat closed system.

It will be expensive and difficult for Arkansas's traditional majority party to change how it does politics. But a failure to evolve will have dire consequences for Arkansas's Democrats.

Favorite

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • The real targets in Trump's outreach to African Americans

    Political analysts have spent recent days asking whether Donald Trump's outreach for African-American support last week at consecutive night rallies in Michigan and Virginia will produce electoral benefit with voters who, according to a raft of surveys, are rejecting him at rates matched only by the poor showing of Barry Goldwater in 1964 after Goldwater's high-profile opposition to the Civil Rights Act.
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Changing rules in the Democratic Party

    The opening afternoon session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was a rambunctious one. Lost in the clamor was an agreement by the forces of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to significantly revise the party rules related to the presidential nomination process.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • DNC: The final event

    Most reading this watched last night’s final night of the Democratic National Convention and have watched many more hours of analysis of Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech and the other events of the evening, so I will avoid too many more words on what was a crisply delivered speech.
    • Jul 29, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Prudent pay raises for elected officials needed

    Across the generations, the low pay of Arkansas's elected officials — a direct result of an ingrained distrust and cynicism regarding political elites — has served the state poorly by inhibiting the modernization of state government. The commission now at work on determining state officials' pay has a great opportunity to remedy that flaw, but only if its members show care in their actions.
    • Jan 15, 2015
  • Landlord-tenant laws need change

    Overshadowed by the "AsaCare" speech was a decision by a circuit court judge in Little Rock that also promotes fundamental fairness. Judge Herb Wright shot down the 1901 Arkansas statute criminalizing a tenant's "failure to vacate" a landlord's property without paying rent.
    • Jan 29, 2015
  • Don't give up on LRSD

    I hate it. I hate that the Arkansas Board of Education took control of the Little Rock School District. I hate that the board ignored the broad-based community support for the LRSD, including the incredibly powerful voices of student leaders. I hate that the takeover will overshadow the great schools, educators and programs in the LRSD. I hate that families of means will see the LRSD as a failure and move their kids to private schools and move from Little Rock as quickly as they can.
    • Feb 5, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Jay Barth

  • The real targets in Trump's outreach to African Americans

    Political analysts have spent recent days asking whether Donald Trump's outreach for African-American support last week at consecutive night rallies in Michigan and Virginia will produce electoral benefit with voters who, according to a raft of surveys, are rejecting him at rates matched only by the poor showing of Barry Goldwater in 1964 after Goldwater's high-profile opposition to the Civil Rights Act.
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Changing rules in the Democratic Party

    The opening afternoon session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was a rambunctious one. Lost in the clamor was an agreement by the forces of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to significantly revise the party rules related to the presidential nomination process.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Michelle Obama: still who she was

    I had the good fortune to see Michelle Obama fairly early in her public life.
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

August

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Racial bias in police shootings

    • Excellent analysis - BTW , if anyone was looking for a AR Complaint Form ,…

    • on August 28, 2016
  • Re: Swing and miss

    • No, but I visit Chicago often and have many close friends there. It's without a…

    • on August 27, 2016
  • Re: Swing and miss

    • Sorry for going off on such a tangent - I have been kind of chained…

    • on August 27, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation