Practitioners on both sides were left to assess a mixed result Tuesday as the 2018 midterms showcased the power of new digital tools and, at least some, ongoing concern over the state of survey research.
A big story for Democrats in the aftermath of this midterm will be how well their new platforms performed, some of which came out of their side’s tech incubator infrastructure. The Tuesday Company’s Team app, a platform that got a DCCC contract after it received funding and support from incubator Higher Ground Labs, noted that text was the most popular channel for its volunteers.
Of the 27,259 direct messages to voters sent by volunteers through Team, 87.9 percent of messages were SMS texts, the company said.
The runner-up was Facebook Messenger, which handled 6.4 percent of the messages, followed by calls and then emails. “The most successful message sent from all the DCCC House races was the most succinct: ‘What's up? Did you vote?’” the company said Tuesday.
MobilizeAmerica, another startup incubated by Higher Ground, worked with the DNC and with state party organizations across the country to build a better volunteer infrastructure. During a conference call organized by NGP VAN on Wednesday, Alfred Johnson, co-founder and CEO of MobilizeAmerica, said there were 36 million voter contact attempts made through his platform — including 17.3 million texts.
And then there was the rise of peer-to-peer texting (utilized by Democrats and Republicans in 2018), offered by the likes of Hustle, Relay, and RumbleUp.
Also on the NGP VAN call, Roddy Lindsay, co-founder and CEO of Hustle, said his platform sent some 200 million text messages. “This is definitely one of the breakout tools of the 2018 cycle,” he said of texting.
Ahead of Election Day, Colin Delany of Epolitics noted that the role of peer-to-peer will be one of the major digital assessments to make post-election.
"We know that campaigns are using the tools, but will they actually matter?" Delany wrote in C&E. "In particular, will texts from Democratic volunteers or phone calls from a friend move enough younger voters off the couch and into the voting booth? Also, will Republicans adopt the technology in enough numbers to narrow the peer-to-peer lead Democrats built in 2016? We probably won't learn much more on Election Day itself. But look for the vendors to tout their successes in the months afterward.
Even Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi gave a shout out to the power of texting during her victory speech.
“Every call you made, every door you knocked, every text you sent, every conversation you had made the difference between winning and losing in this election,” Pelosi said. “Thanks to you we owned the ground.”
Expect Tuesday's turnout numbers, and questions over what really motivated both sides to get out in sizable numbers this year, to be an ongoing post-election debate. Some Republican practitioners working in grassroots organizing said they saw their volunteers working harder following the Justice Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
“We saw per-worker production numbers jump 100 percent during the Kavanaugh hearings and those numbers have held through today,” Chris Turner, CEO of Stampede Consulting, told C&E.
Some evidence backs up that conclusion. Of the Democratic senators in targeted races only Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, won on Tuesday. Those who voted against confirmation lost.
And as much as this election was considered a referendum on Donald Trump, Democratic consultant Jim Messina noted that his research revealed the Republican president was surprisingly absent from a lot of TV advertising. “[M]entions of Trump appear in less than 10% of TV ads,” Messina tweeted.
On to the polling question. The end result on Tuesday tracked fairly well with the national polling: Democrats regained the majority in the House while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate. But there will be some attention focused on misses in two key Senate races.
Some Indiana surveys had incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly leading — or at least within shouting distance of GOP challenger Mike Braun. The race, which was rated a toss-up, finished with Braun winning by close to 10 points, albeit with 12 percent of the vote still to report.
Missouri saw a similar polling whiff. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) trailed GOP challenger Josh Hawley by less than a percent in aggregate polling. But she ultimately lost her toss-up rated race by 6 points.
“I think this is an ongoing problem,” former Obama advisor David Axelrod said on CNN Tuesday. “When people had landlines, it was easy. I think this is going to prompt another round of soul-searching — whether and how you can poll accurately.”
Democratic pollster Stefan Hankin said based on Tuesday's results, we certainly can't rule 2018 a miss for pollsters. “Feels similar to 2016 in that the national seemed to be pretty good, but some crap at the state level,” Hankin told C&E.