Tag Archives: election

Don’t Mourn, Hit the Doors!

New Orleans       What a week!  It was pretty much a full-on-Trump-arade!  Rarely have we read or heard so many pundits wringing their hands and tearing their hair since they were forced to walk-back the headlines they had already written in 2016 crowning Hillary Clinton the winner.  The general consensus after the inevitable and long expected impeachment acquittal and the gut punch surprise of the Iowa meltdown is that we now have Trump Unleashed.  Turns out Trump 2.0 is is not totally different from Trump 1.0, but if it can get worse, it will get worse.  Many are coming to grips with the fact that has also been obvious for quite some time:  Trump could win in 2020!  In fact, some of the observers are already throwing in the towel after this worse week ever.

All of which found me going back and re-reading an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago by Hugo Percier, a cognitive scientist in Paris who was opining about whether political campaigns change minds.  Here’s a spoiler alert:  no, not much.  For those who are hyperventilating about the huge war chest that President Trump has already assembled, take a deep breath.  Percier relies heavily on extensive mail surveys conducted by Professor Alan Gerber of Yale University who found that campaign mail had almost no impact.  He looked at other studies that focused on advertising and concluded that ads had no impact, except perhaps in primary campaigns where voters are still searching.  Percier doesn’t want to leave social media out of the equation and cites a study of social media ads done by researchers at Google and Microsoft who concluded the persuasive impact of such ads is so small they couldn’t come to a clear conclusion that it changed minds.  The heart of Percier’s argument was that for the most part when people find a message that challenges their views, on a candidate for example, the first reaction is to reject it.  The only exception, importantly, is “when provided with the right reasons by the right people, however, we do change our minds.”

The only place that really happens is on the doors in direct person-to-person conversations.  How do people know?  Well, from watching ACORN.  The same Professor Alan Gerber of Yale and Professor Donald Green of Columbia note the effectiveness of such work in a 2016 jointly authored paper entitled, “Field Experiments in Voter Mobilization:  An Overview of Burgeoning Literature”:

Two experiments conducted in 2003 gave early indications that advocacy campaigns could be quite effective in mobilizing voters. In Kansas City, the ACORN organizationcanvassed extensively in predominantly African American precincts. Its aim was to identify and mobilize those supportive of a ballot measure designed to preserve local bus service. Unlike most other canvassing experiments, this one was randomized at the level of the precinct, with fourteen assigned to the treatment group and fourteen to the control group. Among voters assigned to control precincts (N = 4,779), turnout was29.1 percent, compared to 33.5 percent in the treatment group, 62.7 percent of whom were contacted (Arceneaux 2005). At roughly the same time, ACORN canvassed in Phoenix on behalf of a ballot measure to determine the future of the county hospital (Villa and Michelson 2005). ACORN conducted two rounds of canvassing, the first to identify voters sympathetic to the ballot measure and a second to urge supportive voters to vote. The canvassing effort targeted voters with Latino surnames who had voted in at least one of the previous four elections. ACORN made multiple attempts to contact voters (including making a small number of phone calls), the result being that 71 percent of those living in one-voter households were contacted at least once. This figure rose to 80 percent among two-voter households. This mobilization campaign had a powerful effect on turnout. Among one-personhouseholds, turnout rose from 7.4 percent in the control group (N = 473) to 15.9 percent in the treatment group (N = 2,666). Among two-person households, turnout rose from 6.9 percent in the control group (N = 72) to 21.0 percent in the treatment group (N = 2,550).

You get the message?  Don’t mourn, organize!  And, more to the point, get out on the doors, have person-to-person conversations, and move people to the polls to vote in their own interest for change.  Snooze, and we all lose.  Hit the doors, and we win.


Russians Are Teaching the Perils of Social Media “Organizing”

New Orleans     Ok, now they’ve gone too far!

Sure, like everyone I’ve tried to follow the noise and news about Russian interference in 2016 US elections. Not because I think their mischief and dirty tricks determined the results of the election, though I’m uncomfortably agreeing with President Trump on that score, but because, like all foul play, it impacted the election and that’s just plain dangerous, and also where I disagree with President Trump. It’s been wrong when the United States has interfered in elections in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, and it’s equally wrong when the Russians or the North Koreans or the Chinese or anyone else messes with a country’s elections as well.

It turns out that the Russian interference on social media was not just a matter of buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads on Facebook. Not that that was insignificant either. The newspapers were full of revelations from Congressional hearings with the social media companies that their reach had long hands with posts on Facebook by Russian agents intended to sow discord during the election reached 126 million users on Facebook, more than 100000 posts published on Twitter and uploaded over 1000 videos on Google’s YouTube.

That’s a lot of noise for sure, but what takes me over the edge is the analysis by the Wall Street Journal of some of the accounts that indicates that they weren’t just throwing some words in the wind, but were actually using social media confusion in issuing the call to organize rallies on both sides of issues solely to create division. I’ve always argued that social media is an excellent communications tool, but a flawed organizing tool. Here is a case where they were able to use Facebook especially and its “messenger” application to not only issue the call for direct actions and rallies about various hot button issues, but actually dupe some folks into taking money for supplies, transportation, and other details involved in putting together these wolves-in-sheeps-clothing events. All of which makes them not fake, but real. The Journal was able to determine that at least 22 of the 60 events took place. In some cases the events even provoked counter rallies. In Dallas they turned out 300 people to a “Blue Lives Matter” rally after the shooting of police there. How will those good folks – and many others – feel when they realize they suited up and hit the streets to the call of Russian secret agents?!?

This kind of popular manipulation could make it even harder for real organizations and real organizers to recruit and organize around real grievances in the public space. A country that prides participation and protects protest can’t allow a public to be created that suddenly feels that they are unable to take action for fear of being deceived or to ignore legitimate protests fearing that they could be fake.

On the other hand it should also be a wake-up call about why real organizations are important in social change. Bonafides can easily be confirmed – even using the darned internet – with a check there on the history of the group, a wikipedia search, a look at their website postings. In real organizations people can actually join, volunteer, lead and not just follow, question and not just mimic and repeat the posting, lose and sometimes win.

Not to be too simplistic, but not everyone on Facebook is a friend, and not every call to action should be heeded. These are great tools, but they are even greater in the hands of organizers and organizations, rather than random strangers who may be working for the common good, or as we are now seeing, may be up to the worst evils.