Invest in Voters of Color
“Once a Long Shot, Democrat Doug Jones Wins Alabama Senate Race.” That’s the headline the New York Times is running on Election Night. The postmortems of this election promise to be interesting, but let’s be clear about the reason for last night’s historic result: black voters. Early voting data shows that black voters turned out at 2016 Presidential levels all across the state.
Vote.org billboard in Mobile, AL, photo credit: Andrea Morales for NBC News.
Vote.org decided to get involved in the Alabama election two full months ago (well before the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore surfaced). Alabama is objectively interesting: 29% of all registered Alabama voters are black, and both parties seem intent on ignoring this critical block of voters.
Vote.org has long believed that voter drop-off is a result of candidate neglect. We asked a few bold donors if they would support a hyper-targeted effort to increase turnout among black voters. Their funding allowed us to run the single largest nonpartisan GOTV effort in Alabama in 2017. Here’s what this funding allowed us to do:
- We bought 140 billboards in Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and parts of the “Black Belt,” and 59 bus ads in Birmingham. In total this produced an estimated 70,878,582 impressions.
- We ran 3 weeks of digital radio on Pandora targeting African-Americans in Alabama for an estimated 2,545,485 impressions.
- We proactively provided polling place data via SMS to over 308,000 POC in Alabama. That’s 32% of the state’s voters of color.
- We partnered with Voter Participation Center (VPC) to send 200,000 pieces of direct mail.
- We also partnered with VPC and the Analyst Institute to run the first-ever controlled experiment testing the effect of layering SMS on top of direct mail outreach. Our total experimental universe was 53% of the registered voters of color in the state.
It will be a few weeks before we’re able to determine whether our work had a statistically significant impact on turnout. In the meantime, here’s a great spreadsheet that some of our volunteers put together. From what we can tell, POC turnout in 2017 remained consistent with POC turnout in 2016, while white voter turnout plummeted. Perhaps voter drop-off is a result of partisan neglect after all, and not a foregone conclusion. Time will tell.
In the meantime, we’re looking forward to applying the lessons learned from our 2017 Virginia and Alabama experiments during the 2018 midterm elections. We’re proud of our 2017 work, and we’re just getting started.