Michele Norris

Study Group: The role of race in the race to win votes

March 2, 2015

This session is part of the five-week study group series, How Shifts in Race and Cultural Identity Influence Politics, Policy and Pop Culture, led by Michele Norris. Seminars are for Harvard students only (graduate and undergraduate), and are not-for-credit.

Description: Campaigns increasingly analyze and scrutinize enormous amounts of data on opinions and behavior to determine which voters can be persuaded to throw their money, support, or votes behind a candidate. It is a highly sophisticated process using statistical models, consumer profiles, demographic data, advanced algorithms and behavioral psychology. Voters are assigned scores or ratings based on a constellation of information including, religious affiliation, club membership, online shopping, vacation choices, even commuting habits. What roles does race or ethnic allegiance play in this process? Can statistical models capture the nuances of cultural identity?

Time: Monday, March 2, 2015 – 6:00-7:30 p.m.

Location: Harvard Kennedy School, Taubman Building Room 102, Women and Public Policy Program Cason Conference Room

Suggested Reading

Grassroots Mobilizing in the 2008 Presidential ElectionThe 2008 presidential election was unique in its emphasis on grassroots mobilization. This was an empirical study that evaluated who was targeted through grassroots efforts.

(African Americans, Latinos, and voters of other races) are as likely as whites to report GOP-only contact, while these groups of voters are more likely than whites to report Democratic-only contact. However, African Americans and other non-Latino minority voters (e.g., Asian Americans) are less likely than whites to report being contacted by both parties, suggesting that these voters were pursued more aggressively than were whites only by Democrats in 2008” (325).

Winning the Race: Black Voter Turnout in the 2008 Presidential Election
The 2008 elections led to a surge of Black voter turnout. While many think it was due to Obama’s status as a Black candidate that led to higher interest and shared identity, this article argues that party mobilization (i.e. party contacting) played a greater role in getting out the vote in Black communities.

It’s Complicated: Latinos, President Obama, and the 2012 Election
The authors question the presence of a “Latino vote,”  in a critique of an allegedly monolithic voting bloc.

Black Ethnics’ Perception and Reception of U.S. Political Messages
Black ethnics in the US are diverse in their political identity, which complicates the argument that there is a single Black vote.  This thesis tackles microtargeting and political messages from a cultural communications perspective.

Latino Micro-targeting ModelsThe models themselves, or what the variables are that go into the models, are obscure. However, it is interesting to note that there are organizations that are hoping to micro-target specific racial groups.

The Republican National Committee has stepped up efforts to identify and mobilize voters of color.

Those efforts are outlined in the following links:

The role of micro-targeting aimed at voters of color in surfaced in our conversation on Monday night as it pertained to California’s Prop 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage.

For further background please explore the following link in Marisa Abrajano’s study for Political Research Quarterly: Are Blacks and Latinos Responsible for the Passage of Proposition 8? Analyzing Voter Attitudes on California’s Proposal to Ban Same Sex Marriage in 2008. 

Marisa Abrajano also explores both party’s efforts to reach Latino voters in her book, Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters. Though it should be noted that her book predates the Obama/McCain and Obama/Romney elections.

You have a tremendous resource right here at HKS to better understand the role of Field Organizing in general and in relation to the Obama Campaigns. Marshall Ganz served as a key advisor to the brain trust in the  Obama ground game strategy. I am sure many of you are familiar with his work. He documents the strategy behind the ground operation in the following paper from 2009: Organizing Obama: Campaign, Organizing, Movement.

The field organizing strategy – informally referred to as “snowflaking” last night is also explained and examined in detail in the relatively new book Groundbreakers. How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America by Elizabeth McKenna and Harie Hahn.