The Democratic Party is trying to build a volunteer army to match the one it has created for online giving, and so far, the results seem promising.
MobilizeAmerica, an online organizing platform that was founded in 2017 by two Democratic presidential campaign alums, has seen a major growth in usage so far in the 2020 Democratic primary. The platform gives campaigns and organizers a single venue to sign people up for canvassing, door-knocking, phone banking, and more. Already 14 current presidential campaigns and 881 overall organizations are actively using it, including the Democratic National Committee and a number of progressive groups, The Daily Beast has learned.
The events being posted on the site include a “Wine & Ring for Warren in Waterloo,” a “Phone Bank with Team Biden in Charleston County,” and a “Coffee Chat with Team Cory in Iowa City.”
Although those sound like fairly mundane campaign gatherings, they have been parlayed into larger political organizing forums. People participating are leaving their names, email addresses, and phone numbers, and are asked if they want to receive text messages with more information about events and how to stay involved. That data is not transferable between candidates or campaigns. But MobilizeAmerica has centralized a database of grassroots volunteers that has often proven cumbersome for candidates, campaigns, and committees to gather.
Since MobilizeAmerica launched, 827,000 individuals have signed up for 1.27 million actions. And the platform has recently added a distributed organizing feature that lets volunteers create and manage their own events. That has allowed for the platform to play host to more than 6,700 watch parties with more than 39,000 signups around the first two presidential debates, and more are expected for the upcoming debate in September.
It has not quite reached the scale of ActBlue, a fundraising platform launched in 2004 that has revolutionized online giving for Democrats and progressives. But the goals are similarly lofty.
“The way that this would always work in the past is the organizing that the campaign did would tend to be fragmented across lots of different systems,” co-founder Alfred Johnson, a veteran of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, told The Daily Beast. “They might use Google Forms to get people to show that they were interested in volunteering. They might use Facebook Events. And the result of that is that their data was highly fragmented on individual people, and it was hard for them to have a really personal relationship with people.”
Johnson said putting all the data in one place in a single platform allows for campaigns to keep in better touch with their known supporters. If someone signs up to attend a rally, they could get follow-ups about participating in another volunteer event without the hassle of a campaign maintaining a list in a spreadsheet or elsewhere. And a supporter can opt in to provide feedback via text message about a rally they attended.
“They will get an automated text message and email that asks them how their experience was,” Johnson said, “where they can report on everything from whether they liked it or not to providing structured feedback on the program or the policies that were talked about.”
When MobilizeAmerica was launched, it was just one of many new progressive groups working to elect Democrats at all levels of government. Johnson and his co-founder Allen Kramer, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, wanted to harness the energy they saw naturally occurring in protest events like the Women’s March. Their first target was the 2017 Virginia elections, the primary statewide races in the off-year after President Trump’s election and before the 2018 midterms.
Following the success of Democrats in the House of Delegates races and the gubernatorial contest, the firm scaled up and worked with more than 480 campaigns in the 2018 cycle. And in addition to the presidential campaigns using the platform, MobilizeAmerica anticipates continued expansion for upcoming congressional and state legislative races.
While sheer attendance at an afternoon coffee event in Concord, New Hampshire, or a debate watch party in Cheyenne, Wyoming, doesn’t foretell success for a candidate on its own, Johnson sees enormous upside to this near-constant activity as another indicator of excitement outside of fundraising alone. And it can create a kind of feedback loop for the campaign, with supporters sharing their experiences on social media, which in turn can lead more people to check out a given candidate.
Even as the Republican Party has launched an online donor platform intended to compete with ActBlue, there is no exact GOP equivalent for something like MobilizeAmerica.
“They just build their own stuff. It is much more akin to what used to be the case on our side,” Johnson said. “The result of that is you can have a lot more collaboration and integration of, for example, campaigns that are running in the same state and want to jointly recruit to some events or promote each other’s events. That kind of thing is feasible on our side because of Mobilize in a way that isn’t on their side because they tend to build very good systems but systems around the individual campaigns.”