Doing Things Differently in 2022
Since 2017, the emergence of a real movement supporting and investing in a strategy to flip state legislatures blue has made the mechanics of the state legislative landscape more favorable: Democrats aren’t getting massively outraised at the state level anymore.
Despite this unprecedented investment, though, Republicans still control over 60% of legislative chambers, including both chambers of the legislature in key battleground states like Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
If we’re going to flip more legislative chambers blue in 2022 and beyond, Democrats need a new strategy.
Even with the benefits of the anti-Trump waves in 2017, 2018, and 2020, Democrats failed to flip and hold chambers outside of mostly blue states. In fact, in the five states that Biden flipped from Trump, Democrats do not hold any of the ten chambers. Meanwhile, Republicans maintain an advantage in both chambers in New Hampshire, in the Minnesota Senate, and in the Virginia House. What has stymied further Democratic gains?
The big picture problem is that Democrats have failed to implement strategies to overcome the geographic challenges of the state legislative map.
What does that mean? The districts that Democrats need to win to gain majorities in purple states are generally whiter than the country at-large and tend to either have a large proportion of non-college white voters (who are trending away from Democrats) or college-educated white voters (who have trended Democratic at the top of the ticket but not consistently for state legislative candidates). In most battleground districts, Democrats are not more than 50% of the total number of registered voters.
How do we fix Democrats’ strategic deficit? It starts with recognizing that it is a problem. Once again, polling in 2020 was disastrously wrong. That led candidates and campaigns to implement strategies that didn’t actually match the realities of what voters cared about and what that meant for who those voters pulled the lever for on Election Day.
We need a new paradigm to help campaigns make smarter, more strategic investments in the tactics and strategies that will help us win more legislative majorities. Moving forward, EveryDistrict will be investing in campaigns that show they are willing to take bold, district-informed steps to win in the places Democrats have failed in 2018 and 2020.
What do those new strategies and tactics look like? Overly optimistic polling in 2020 led campaigns to believe that what they needed to do to win was just to turn out Democratic voters and that would be enough for their margin of victory. So, campaigns spent a large amount of time messaging about issues that Democrats cared about and contacting voters who were highly likely to vote for Democrats, either through field activities (including a lot of phone calls and texts in 2020) or through digital and print communications.
But what we saw in the 2020 results was that in the districts we need to win to build majorities, we don’t yet have a committed Democratic base large enough to be the margin of victory. Moving forward, campaigns need to focus on persuading more voters to cast their ballot for the legislative Democrat. We believe that a focus on repeated, deep communication with this finite set of persuadable and turnout-able voters is the future. That means using techniques like deep listening, persuasion canvassing, and smart, clever, and engaging digital strategies to understand what these voters care about and create positive engagement that will get them to vote for Democratic legislative candidates in the future.
This rethinking is key for winning in the places where Republicans have been able to hold onto a 2–5-point edge even when Democrats have run professional campaigns using the old techniques. And it’s those places where majorities will be made. Across the 29 districts needed to claim majorities in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, at most 100,000 voters total will determine whether Democrats come out ahead. We aim to work with our campaigns to bring more of those voters into our fold than ever before.
Throughout 2022, we’ll be highlighting what doing things differently looks like, alongside EveryDistrict’s endorsed candidates. If you’re interested in Democrats not repeating the same old playbook, we need your help. Make a donation, follow us on Twitter @Every_District, and share this with your family and friends to get them invested in this work, too.
Questions? Email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.