The Yang campaign believes they should have been on the debate stage, and Yang could still qualify for the Feb. 7 debate, held in New Hampshire four days before voters cast the first ballots of the primary. But for now, the campaign is fleshing out strategies for caucus night on Feb. 3.
The 2020 campaign cycle has been an uphill battle for Yang, a presidential candidate with no previous campaign experience or electoral victories to tout.
Because of that, the Yang team in Iowa has put some unique strategies to the test in the first-in-the-nation state.
The campaign’s National Field Director, Keith Presley, sat down with Starting Line to talk about how they have engaged Iowa caucus-goers since Yang launched his candidacy.
A Ladder Of Engagement
Most campaigns identify potential voters with a simple binary: they’re a supporter or not.
The Yang team, however, asks potential caucus-goers to rank Yang on a scale of one to five.
This does a few things for them. First, there is no response that allows someone to say they are not at all interested in the candidate. The lowest number is five, but it puts him somewhere on their radar.
It also gives the campaign an idea of where he stands with people. If a potential supporter places him at five, they know that they have some work ahead to move him up the ladder.
If a potential supporter ranks him at three or four, the Yang team knows the person is interested in him as a candidate and they can specialize their communications to move him up the list.
Once Yang is in someone’s top two, they can start trying to mobilize that person as a volunteer.
Communication is different for each of these five ranking spots. If they like another candidate more, the Yang team can start drawing contrasts with that candidate. If they like Yang but don’t know enough about his candidacy, perhaps some more information on his platform and personal values will help move him up the list.
Mobilizing With Values
Values are a big part of their mobilization plan. Their team is not simply communicating the platform, and they’re not solely trying to sell people on Yang’s idea to implement Universal Basic Income (UBI) in America.
Instead, they try to get a sense of a potential caucus-goer’s values and work to communicate how those values line up with Yang. This creates more of a personal connection and avoids static messaging.
Although Yang hasn’t changed his stump speech much, his team can have more persuasive, one-on-one conversations that can be personalized depending on who they’re talking to.
UBI, redefining the rules of the 21st-century economy, supporting special needs families and personal care providers, creating more avenues to technical training, etc. — these are all topics people hear about any time they attend a Yang event.
By caucus night, the Yang campaign will have about 100 field staff on the ground here.
All of the presidential campaigns have brought in people from out of state to work for them. At Yang events, the number of people who uprooted their life to come work for him in Iowa is very apparent. But, they still have hired a lot of Iowans.
“We’re prioritized hiring Iowans,” Presley said. “Because Iowans know Iowans and Iowans can talk to Iowans effectively.”
They’ve also identified the areas they think they can realistically compete, and they already have precinct captains for those locations locked in.
Yang’s efforts have not been limited to urban areas. In December, he embarked on a four-day bus tour that focused on larger towns and cities, but when he hops on the bus again for a 17-day tour beginning this weekend, small towns like Van Meter, Forest City and Northwood are on the schedule.
In terms of contacts, the Yang team has already made more than 60,000 contacts in the month of January, and that was of the beginning of the week. However, these contacts aren’t strictly coming from urban areas where door-knocking easily tallies up quickly.
The campaign uses a ratio-driven effort to reach out, shooting to have 45% of their attempted contacts in rural Iowa and 55% of attempts in urban areas.
This leaves a lot of room for unique conversations between field organizers and potential caucus-goers.
Yang is unlikely to be a viable candidate in most precincts, so caucus watchers will be paying attention to see where his supporters go when given the opportunity to caucus for a second-choice candidate.
During a conversation with a field organizer, depending on where you place Yang on the one-to-five scale, you’ll get different points made to you.
Depending on what your personal values are, you’ll get different messaging strategies about how you could possibly relate to Yang as a person, not just a candidate.
Depending on where you live, you could get a different set of issues emphasized that will relate to your community.
“We’re all the way from Scott County to Buena Vista. We have an office in Orange City,” Presley explained. “We’re really doing the investment in the forgotten areas of Iowa.”
By Josh Cook