If you type “Marty Stone” into Google you’ll find at the top of the search results, much to my chagrin, professional bass fisherman Marty Stone. I always say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So recently we took a page out of the bass fishing playbook and developed an innovative GOTV tool we dubbed Catch and Release.
The system is based on years of research that shows social pressure is one of the biggest motivators getting people to the polls. But instead of catching and releasing award-winning bass, we’re catching voters and releasing “voice pledge cards” back into the wild of the electorate.
Catch and Release involves dialing out to voters a few weeks before the election and asking them if they think it’s important to vote—over 90 percent say they do. We then ask them to record a short statement on why voting is important (this is the “catch”). Depending on the list and what we ask beforehand, we get a 3 – 22 percent recording rate.
Shortly before the election, we call those same voters again and play their recording back to them. If they didn’t record, we play them a compilation reel of what their neighbors said (this is what we term the “release”).
After listening to thousands of recordings from voters, the reasons they give tend to fall into four categories: voting is a civic duty, you cannot complain about who’s in office if you don’t vote, older generations expanded the electorate, and members of the armed forces died to protect our right to vote.
We first tested Catch and Release in Virginia during an off-year cycle with a close delegate’s race. We even went as far as to put the recordings of why people think it’s important to vote into MailPOW talking cards.
In 2014, we presented our new GOTV ideas to Planned Parenthood Votes. The campaign team, under the leadership of Aletheia Henry, took to the idea and we deployed it in some of their key states.
Several media outlets picked up on Planned Parenthood’s innovative GOTV strategies. USA Today highlighted the tactic as applied in Kay Hagan’s Senate race: “Planned Parenthood…is recording likely [Sen. Kay] Hagan supporters explaining why they should vote on Election Day. Instead of getting a phone call with a generic recorded reminder to cast a ballot on Nov. 4, Planned Parenthood will play the voter’s unique message back to him or her. Think of it as nagging yourself to vote.”
While Hagan was among the ranks of losing Democratic incumbents in November, our data shows that Catch and Release clearly made a difference in several targeted GOTV efforts. We deployed this program with the New Mexico Democratic Party to help turnout voters for Sen. Tom Udall’s (D) successful reelection campaign.
The Women’s Equality Party, a major initiative of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) reelection strategy, was made a permanent party on the state’s ballot in part because of Catch and Release. We’re looking forward to using Catch and Release—the voice pledge card—in electoral fights in the future.
Marty Stone is a partner at Stones’ Phones.