For several years now, early voting has decided the outcome of elections across the country before the ballots even begin to be counted from Election Day. Early voting increased from 24.9 million to 57.2 million voters from 2004 to 2016, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In the 2016 presidential election, 16 states reported 50 percent or more of votes cast early.
The difference between this election and previous elections is more people are interested in voting early than ever before. With COVID-19 changing the way we go about daily lives, state safety guidelines have drastically altered the way clients are driving voter turnout. For some campaigns, ground operations are canceled, fundraising has been difficult, and traditional person-to-person interactions relied on by political campaigns have been called off.
Don’t panic! From a digital perspective, the principles of Get Out The Vote (GOTV) before and during early voting remain the same. With a few exceptions, such as new Facebook regulations.
Now more than ever, digital GOTV remains a powerful tool to identify your voters and drive turnout. In the ever-changing landscape of social media advertising, digital provides candidates and campaigns the means to communicate directly and effectively with voters.
With less than 40 days to go until Election Day, here are five core principles that you should implement in your digital strategy to maximize your GOTV efforts online.
Lesson 1: Be Resourceful
For some voters, finding a polling location can be complicated and government websites can be difficult to navigate. So, be a resource and make it easy for voters. Direct them to accurate information from your website or social media platforms. Create ads with helpful calls-to-action such as “Find the closest polling location to you,” “Your early voting and Election Day polling locations are different,” or “View your sample ballot before going to the polls.” Don’t assume that people know even some of the simple things related to voting.
Lesson 2: Be Responsive
A real-time response online can be a crucial X-factor for your campaign. More consumers (and voters) than ever turn to social media platforms like Facebook as their go-to resource for questions, inquiries, and information. With this knowledge, campaigns should plan to have a dedicated person ready to respond to direct messages and comments that often range from “where do I vote?” to “where does your candidate stand on the 2nd Amendment?” Quick responses can result in quick votes, so be at the ready!
Lesson 3: Be Restrained
A big mistake many campaigns make leading into Early Voting is targeting audiences as if they are still in persuasion mode. Meaning, they are targeting too large of an audience to win over some last-minute undecided voters. GOTV mode should be about narrowing your targets down to people you know are likely to be with you, and then driving them to vote. Specifically, target lists of people you’ve identified as supporters through phone, walking, fundraising, and digital efforts.
Lesson 4: Be Proactive
Because of Facebook’s new regulations relating to political advertising, your GOTV ads need to be set early. Oct. 27 is the deadline to have ads approved (which can take up to 3 business days), placed, and running; after that time, you can alter targeting, increase/decrease budgets and bid amounts, and pause/unpause the ad itself. What you won’t be able to change is essentially the content—text, images, videos, and links. Although inconvenient, this shouldn’t deter your GOTV efforts on Facebook. Design and place ad sets early, even if you don’t want them to run quite yet. Get approval from Facebook, place the ads before Oct. 27, and then throttle the individual ad budgets so that certain sets only run at the designated days and times of your choosing.
Lesson 5: Be Visible
Don’t forget that Facebook isn’t the only place to get out the vote effectively online. Be sure you allocate and spend budget on search advertising. After all, search engines are how people find voting information specifically important to them. So, it’s crucial to have your message at the top of the search results. Use re-marketing to target display ads at people who have visited your website and online platforms. Think of display ads as your digital yard signs; you want your voters to see them everywhere!
If you incorporate all five of these digital lessons into your GOTV plans, you will capitalize on early voting opportunities. Every states’ rules and regulations for early voting are different. In fact, in several states, voters have already started to make their vote official. So, ensure your voters have the information they are looking for when they need it. If your election is decided before Nov. 3, make sure it is in your favor. You can make it happen with smart use of digital.
Tyler Hargrave is a Senior Client Strategist at The Prosper Group, an internationally-recognized, award-winning digital agency specializing in online media, strategy, and fundraising for Republican political candidates, advocacy organizations, associations, and non-profits. The Prosper Group’s best-in-industry work has been recognized for awards dozens of times by prestigious organizations such as the American Association of Political Consultants and Campaigns & Elections.