Since the 2022 midterms concluded, there have been countless analyses about what pundits and elected officials got wrong.
For those of us who work on campaigns, it’s essential that we take a beat to reflect on what worked — and what didn’t — so we can activate more voters, raise more money, and enact good policy in the years ahead.
The three takeaways here are actionable — every campaign and organization should consider them ahead of their next big fundraising or advocacy push. If you want to talk specifically about how these takeaways can strengthen your next campaign, my team and I are here to help! Book a free strategy call with us to get started.
1. You can control the narrative, even if legacy media outlets aren’t on your side.
There was a lot of pre-election buzz that crime and inflation would be more important to 2022 voters than abortion. In the days before Nov. 8, Fox News was single-mindedly amplifying misleading violent crime stories, and there was deeply flawed reporting across the internet that Democrats were doomed for failure because of their focus on reproductive choice.
Of course, this turned out not to be the case. In all five states where it was on the ballot, midterm voters chose to protect abortion access. What’s more, abortion rights were a motivating factor and likely increased turnout among voters who might otherwise not have voted. This was especially noteworthy in Michigan, where winning Democratic candidates up and down the ballot had made abortion rights central in their communications with voters.
There’s a reason for these victories: Democratic campaigns and organizations practiced message discipline and used digital tactics to keep the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade top of mind. When the draft opinion leaked in May 2022 and in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision in June, advertisers flooded Facebook and Instagram with pro-abortion rights messaging, far outspending anti-choice entities. This ad spending continued all cycle, and campaigns shared similar messages in emails and texts from campaigns.
Interviews and exit polls indicated that abortion rights were at the top of voters’ minds when they cast their ballots. Reproductive choice is popular — most Americans want safe, legal abortion access and unhindered health care options where they live. Constantly reminding voters that a popular issue is on the ballot is a winning strategy, and digital media can bypass the punditry and get that message directly to voters. Campaigns should invest early in a digital strategy that hammers home their most effective messaging.
2. Spammy texts and emails are having a detrimental effect.
If you were annoyed and turned off by unsolicited fundraising emails and texts throughout the 2022 campaign cycle, you’re not alone. New post-election research indicates that the level of spam voters received in this cycle could have damaging consequences.
Eighty percent of Democratic voters said they received some campaign emails they did not sign up for, and 77% received unsolicited campaign texts, according to new polling by Civic Shout, Kos Media, and Civiqs.
Some other key numbers from the post-election survey:
47% of respondents agreed with the statement, "I get too many impersonal emails and text messages from Democratic campaigns that I never signed up for," while only 26% disagreed.
24% of respondents agreed with the statement, “There have been times when I have decided not to donate to or volunteer for a Democratic campaign because that just means I'll get more emails and text messages."
68% of respondents said they have not donated to any Democratic political campaign based on emails or text messages they received in recent months.
Here’s what campaign and organizational leaders need to understand: If you’re sending emails and text messages to people who never proactively indicated an interest in your campaign or content, you’re doing more harm than good. A large majority of people who receive any one communication you send won’t convert to donors, but you’re still leaving them with an impression of you and your campaign. If your communication is impersonal and unsolicited, it’s probably a negative impression.
Texts, in particular, can feel invasive. Most of us are attached to our phones, and we use texting to communicate quickly with family and friends.
At some point in October 2022, I stopped reacting to text messages. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I received so many unsolicited messages that there was a good chance any text in my inbox was from a campaign with which I had no existing relationship. For a few weeks, texting was no longer the most effective way to reach me with something important. Beyond anecdotes, this new research indicates that a widespread numbing effect comes with being bombarded by unwanted campaign messages.
This should be alarming to any campaign strategist. If we turn off entire generations from opening campaign texts or emails, we’ll have wholly burned two cost-effective channels for outreach and fundraising. That’d be really bad for all campaigns, but especially for down-ballot campaigns that desperately need powerful, inexpensive tactics.
At ACM Strategies, we’re in the business of long-term movement building. We always aim to create a sustainable culture of giving and activism that lasts longer than one cycle. We use digital tactics like email and text messaging to strengthen relationships with supporters, even those who will take longer than a few weeks to become donors or activists. We know that the long-term payoff is worth it. Campaigns and organizations should know that you can still raise money and activate your audience without sending them unsolicited, ineffective garbage. I promise. We’ve done it.
3. Voters want policies that create a more just and equitable world.
Time and again, progressive policies have proven to be popular, even in deeply “red” regions. Voters affirmed abortion and reproductive health care rights in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Vermont, and Montana. Voters resoundingly supported other middle-out economic policies: South Dakota voters expanded Medicaid eligibility, and voters in Nebraska and Washington, D.C. raised workers’ wages.
Voters are generally excited about candidates and policies that will directly and positively impact their lives. As Nick Hanauer, the host of the Pitchfork Economics podcast, is fond of saying, “Popular things are popular and unpopular things are not” (Pitchfork Economics is a client of ACM Strategies).
We sometimes talk to leaders who fear that their vision won’t resonate with some audiences. This year’s election results demonstrate that good, world-bettering ideas can resonate in any location and across demographics. You just need to dig in and start building your audience of supporters.
We’re ready to help you grow your audience and turn community members into donors and activists. Book a free strategy call with the ACM Strategies team to get started.