R. Stanton Scott of Foggy Bottom Line writes:
For what it’s worth, I think your analysis of the Iowa caucuses is dead
on. I mostly do IR these days, but I spent a few years doing grassroots
political organizing right after retiring from the Army. I found that
people will act collectively if you make it as easy as possible for
them–or give them some swag (Olson got that part right, at least).
Once supporters are identified (and this is often the hard part, since
people will often voice support out of politeness), it is important to
make the process transparent and then give them the feeling that they
will be letting someone down if they back out (even if it is only a van
I like the tactics you suggest, but I would add two things. First, it
may be a good idea to solicit small contributions (5-10 bucks) during
the “supporter identification” process. This will more accurately
identify them, help defray some costs, and create a committment–people
who have given money to a campaign will probably volunteer in other ways
as well, since they now have a fiscal interest.
Second, I would set up “caucus training classes,” ostensibly designed to
teach citizens about the actual mechanics they will see on caucus
night. As you point out, anything that makes the process understandable
is likely to increase turnout, whether it’s group participation or
practice runs. You will probably not get large crowds at these unless
you can get instructors people know–such as local politicians who
support your candidate–but those who do show up will be committed.
This is where you get, and train, your van drivers, too.
The core point you are trying to make, if I read you correctly, is that
grassroots organization is all about money. There are probably 60-70K
voters–perhaps many more–in Iowa with enough enthusiasm for Obama to
show up at the caucuses and vote for him. Identifying them and getting
them to the meetings is the hard part, and money makes it easier–young
people will, for instance, quit menial jobs for even temporary work like
this, especially if care is taken to suggest to them that success might
lead to later work for the campaign. And I was always astounded at the
power of the free logo coffee mug.
I especially like the idea of using the donor list as a base for recruiting caucus-goers. That suggests a heavy investment now in low-dollar Iowa fundraising.
Just to be clear about the whole idea (discussed earlier here and here: I’m not claiming that anyone can win Iowa by spending money on field organization. I’m claiming that a candidate with the “star power” or an issue that creates a base of enthusiastic supporters can, with the sort of field organization current fund-raising levels will support, overcome the insider-friendly caucus system and win Iowa even without the support of the local notables and the unions.