Friday, November 03, 2006

How to make robocalls go away

In response to my article on why robocalls are a necessary evil, several readers made the comment that, campaign realities be damned, they hate robocalls and they’ll withhold their votes to make a point about it.* Even Seth Godin weighed in against robocalls this week

[*I hope to find time to write about the consequences of, and alternatives to, making a protest non-vote (short version: you’re voting for BushCo when you do).]

You're right. Robocalls are damn annoying. But that's not the point:

Complaining about robocalls isn’t going to change how campaigns work. Neither is telling campaigns “just be better” or “just work harder.” (If you’ve never been in a campaign office on GOTV weekend, you imagination can not fathom the crazy work campaign staffers are putting in right now.)

Democracy is a particpatory sport. If you’re prepared to put your money where your mouth is, you CAN make robocalls go away.

More on what you can do to stop annoying robocalls below the fold

To recap why robocalls are here to stay, there are two key reasons:
1. Resource limitations (not enough people, not enough time) affect the choice of tools to contact voters; and
2. Conflict of interest: political consultants currently make more money on spam techniques than on permission-based political marketing, so they recommend tactics to campaigns that are less effective for the campaigns, but more profitable for the consultants.

Diehard field hacks like me rail against this all the time -- but we also have the smallest budgets, the lowest compensation, and we're in the basement of the political totem pole.

If voters don't like robocalls, the best way to make them stop at an individual level is to get involved and volunteer for local campaigns (as early as August, and right up to election day), and help run a field program that makes robocalls unnecessary. If your campaigns have already identified enough supporters through the efforts of free volunteers on phone banks and door-to-door canvasses, trust me: they aren’t going to spend unnecessary money on paid phones.

On other words, if campaigns have enough volunteers, they don't need robocalls. So if you're not really don't have grounds to complain. Instead, roll up your sleeves and do something about it.

However, at a higher level, the only way I can see to solve the political spam problem is:

  • open the doors and let everyday people into political campaigns (despite the much vaunted talk of "big tents," too many political organizations operate as closed-door, in-group shops);
  • shift campaign culture away from air wars (big dollar advertising buys) to ground wars (field operations);
  • educate candidates about their campaign advisors' conflict of interest, and groom and support consultants who help campaigns win rather than profiting off them.

And that, mes amis, is a very big can of worms indeed, and a cause dear to my own heart.

If you have any thought on how we can affect a cultural shift within Democratic campaigns, I am eager to hear your suggestions. Because what we're really talking about isn't robocalls: it is the difference between losing and winning.

Also in the robocall series
Doing Robocalls the Right Way
Why Robocalls Are Here To Stay