The old model of campaigning – raising a ton of money, buying a lot of media attention six weeks before an election, blitzing voters through direct mail or tv – is obsolete.
This was never more evident than in the 2012 presidential election. Romney and his affiliated super PACs spent the vast amount of their money on ads and neglected their ground game. Obama spent dramatically more on field, with three times as many field offices and three times as many volunteers.
People aren’t paying attention to ads anymore; they’re paying attention to real people. This is good news for every single person who wants to run for any kind of office. You don’t need a huge budget or institutional support to run – and win – your campaign. You just need to talk and listen to your community. You need to build relationships and get people to pay attention to you. You need to organize the field.
Field organizing has four phases. The first is listening to your community, hearing their problems and figuring out how to solve them. The second is identifying and engaging your supporters, turning them into volunteers and training them to be leaders who bring in more supporters. The third is persuasion – finding folks who could support you if you called them up, knocked on their door, or invited them to an event. The fourth is getting all the volunteers you’ve recruited to bring all your supporters to the polls. The campaign that does this better wins.