Punya Krishnappa (@_punya_) returns to the podcast for Part 4 of our Early State Mini-Series to teach Kevin the fundamentals of how a caucus works, and recount the details and strategies of running one of Hillary Clinton’s Iowa caucus field offices in 2016 from day 1.
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Transcript (lightly edited for clarity)
[00:01:18] Kevin: Hello everybody! This is your cohost Kevin Xu. So we have been doing a special Mini-Series on the Model Majority Podcast to profile the early primary states in the Democratic Primary this year, from the perspective of Asian American staffers who are currently working on a presidential campaign. A you know, two out of the first four early states are actually caucus states, that being Iowa and Nevada. But one thing that we really haven’t talked about in depth is how does a caucus work?
[00:01:51] I mean, how do you actually build a campaign that is optimized for winning a caucus, which is incredibly crucial to do this stage of the game. Well, to answer these questions, I am super happy to welcome back Punya Krishnappa to the show. For a long time listeners of our podcast, you’d definitely have heard Punya’s voice before. She and I worked together in 2008. as field organizer for the Obama campaign. She has gone on to work on many different campaigns at many senior level positions. Pretty much every single cycle. And the most relevant for our discussion today was the fact that she was literally on the ground on day 1 for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Iowa in 2015 even before she officially announced that she was running for president for that primary season.
[00:02:45] And of course, that was also where Hillary beat Bernie in the Iowa Caucus by a fraction of a percent. She is currently serving as the deputy national field director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the DCCC.
[00:02:59] Punya, welcome back to the Model Majority Podcast today.
[00:03:02] Punya: Thanks Kevin. It’s good to be back!
[00:03:05] Kevin: So let’s start with some fundamentals. And this is as much for our audience as it is for me because I’m totally not that familiar with caucuses in general. It’s a bit of a relic in our democratic system that receives a lot of attention every time we have a competitive primary, which certainly is the case this year. Could you give our audience a sense of the caucus basics? Basically what is a caucus and how is it different from just like a straight up primary where people just show up to vote on a ballot for whoever they like.
[00:03:41] Punya: Absolutely. Caucuses are an interesting beast.
[00:03:44] And I mean that in that each caucus that each state handles is a little differently. It’s managed by the Democratic Party. So in Iowa, you need to have at least 15% of overall support in order to even be considered viable. And what’s particularly interesting about the caucus is there’s several levels to it.
[00:04:08] So, start with the initial caucus night. When we look at it in 2008, it was January 3rd, it was February 2nd in 2016. And it’s individual caucuses that happen at the precinct level and within each of those precincts. Each precinct, wherever you are registered to vote, you go to a specific location, be it a school, and be at a community center and you physically show your support for whatever candidate you prefer, in person. It’s a public display of who you’re supporting.
[00:04:42] There’s a bit of a lively debate in terms of being able to do what they call realignment. If someone isn’t viable, and each precinct is designated a certain number of delegates at the precinct level and throughout the process, this will go on throughout the cycle up until the national convention, where there is a County level convention and district level convention, and a state-level convention in order to actually secure all the delegates that are up for grabs in any given state, be it Iowa or Nevada.
[00:05:16] Kevin: Gotcha. So I want to kind of try to paint a picture for our audience on caucus night. I’ve only seen documentaries and stuff of how this actually happens, but stereotypically, there’s like a gym in a precinct somewhere of a school and people who are caucusing go into these gyms and they go into like different corners of the gym to support the candidate they like and then they realign. Is it pretty much what I’m describing, like how does it actually work in terms of the day itself, you know, as you are realigning people and how does that actually even work?
[00:05:55] Punya: Yeah. I would say in theory it should be exactly like you described. It should be orderly. Everyone should move to different corners of the room based off of the candidate that he or she supports. There’s a realignment period, if someone’s not viable and trying to convince people to come over to your corner or even recount all the people standing in respective sections of the room for the Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, or Martin O’Malley in the case of 2016.
[00:06:25] But that is very rarely the case, as we learned in 2016. And I’m sure it was a case of 2008 when we saw, I mean, the two biggest turnouts in terms of actual participation in the caucus. What’s really interesting is, you can prepare vigorously up in some moments, and it’s, I think, the purest definition of organized chaos, where people are funneling into a space to get checked in and sign in. There is a precinct chair that is running the entire caucus, and it is at the discretion of this man or woman to be able to identify and count them, and create order through the process. And I think in hearing just readouts from organizers in 2016, things were chaotic. They were intense.
[00:07:21] There were times where there were multiple caucuses happening within different rooms depending on the size of the precinct. It’s a specific time of day. It’s in the evening, it’s usually around seven, and folks have to arrange for a number of different things, be it childcare for their kids.
[00:07:41] So I think there’s a lot of like jumbled chaos that we saw. I’m sure the same thing is going to happen again in 2020. Although the field is much larger, this time around, so I’m sure that’ll, that’ll change the caucus math. Although the viability of threshold is still set at 15%, in order to be able to pick up a single delegate that may be up for grabs in that precinct.
[00:08:08] Kevin: I want to dig into this 15% threshold because it’s kind of hard to visualize what that means. If I understand this correctly, say a given caucus room or a gym, you know, a hundred people show up, right? Just for simple math sake, and there’s like five people running and then one of the five people had less than 15 people basically supporting this person during the first round of counting. Then these less than 15, I’d just say, 10 of them showed up at this corner. They’re up for grabs, right? Like they can now move to any of the other candidates. Is that what ends up happening to garner more support, throughout the caucus night, like all these other viable candidates’ supporters are coming over to these 10 people are like: Hey, you should join our corner because we’re the best. And there’s some other people, doing the same thing and then these 10 people are like making a decision and then they’d do another set of counting or another realignment until it kind of settles down. Is that kind of what it looks like?
[00:09:14] Punya: Typically there is one realignment. It’s very rare that there are two and in some cases there is not a realignment, if the viability threshold has been met amongst all caucus goers. What you need is for the those 10 people that are in the group for their candidate and they’re not viable, a couple of things can happen, right?
[00:09:37] They could split up and dispersed amongst the other viable groups, or people from those other groups can come over to them. Here’s the thing. What’s really interesting, some of the nuance of the caucuses, the number of delegates that are up for grabs in a given precinct are determined based off of the population, much like the electoral college.
[00:10:03] We know that the number of electoral votes up for grabs in a state like Iowa is determined based off of the population in comparison to the other 49 States. So what’s interesting about, 2020 in particular and even when you look at 2016, was you might have three candidates or four candidates running, but it doesn’t mean every candidate in that precinct level caucus is going to walk away with a delegate.
[00:10:36] Furthermore, because of just one step in the process to get the national convention, there are other caucuses that happen at the county level, at the district level, and at the state level, which means throughout that process time, someone could go from being a Bernie Sanders delegate to being a Joe Biden delegate.
[00:11:00] So delegate protection is a part of the process. It’s incumbent upon making sure that at the end of the state convention, you know how many results coming out of Iowa actually are supporting or will be going on behalf of Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or Cory Booker who never come out of that caucus.
[00:11:20] Kevin: Right. So the state convention that you’re talking about, that actually happens after caucus night, right? And things could actually still change in between that time. So even though you might have done a pretty good job on caucus night, the work isn’t over in terms of actually securing those delegates to vote for your candidate when the convention comes. That is when the actual commitment occurs. Is that correct?
[00:11:47] Punya: That’s correct. So it’s much like organizing, it’s all about the long game. So it’s like things don’t happen overnight. It’s really about making sure that you’re maintaining those relationships and doing the due diligence to make sure you’re informing caucusgoers and delegates along the way.
[00:12:06] Kevin: Okay. So caucus itself, you know, certainly a chaotic, organized chaos is what you call it, which I think is a very apt description of chaos, sorry, caucus itself, but kind of turning to your experience specifically for the Hillary campaign in 2015, 2016. You have, of course, worked on a bunch of campaigns previous to that already.
[00:12:28] But it was mostly straight up voting, like what people usually would think of, what would occur on election day. And as you got onto the ground in Iowa, how did you think about building your team and hiring and stacking up your volunteers and organizing all this resource to get ready for a caucus, which as you describe, is a beast of its own.
[00:12:53] Punya: That’s a really good question. I think the first thing I would say just about the opportunity to go to Iowa and work the caucus. I think a lot of my peers and campaign alumni who would probably say, we’d equate organizing in the caucus to going to the super bowl and see the culmination of where you see how powerful organizing can really be.
[00:13:18] So I was working with people that I respected and had heard of and I’ve looked up to them, and I’ve always wanted the opportunity to work with those people. So when I thought about building out my team in my region, you look to the people that you worked with before, bring a particular skillset who compliment or compensate for something I know that I want to make sure I have someone that has a really strong background in training or has a really smart background.
[00:13:52] And how they analyze data and how they use the data that’s in the voter file and in the VAN, to be smart about the lists they are pulling to make sure that they’re calling the right people and talking to the right voters.
[00:14:06] There’s all these other things layered into it. But the other thing is, you also want to bring in people that think differently than you and have different experiences. And I think when I looked at the team that I was building, and it happened over a series of months, it was, of course , some people that I had worked with before, but also people that have worked in different states, people that had no campaign experience. Maybe they were a fellow that we had for the first three months, and they were just really doing tremendous work, could say are really falling in love with organizing. The volunteers really loved working with them, and it only seemed fitting that we bring them on to continue to organize a certain part of the region that they already were getting to know very instantly.
[00:14:53] I think there is this saying that, you know, I remember hearing in 2008 but I’m sure you remember, which is “people come for the candidate and they stay for you”, and you don’t realize how true that is, right? Until you are an organizer, but you don’t realize that, how true that can be, until you are in the middle of Iowa. And we were literally fighting tooth and nail to win the support of like one or two people that can then bring along, you know, 10 other activists, which will unlock another 10 people that he would have never had access to before, because they fall in line in terms of, these people are a part of this central committee where they have this particular issue that they’re really passionate about and they’re willing to host a house party.
[00:15:39] I mean, it’s pretty incredible just to just think through how much of a courting process organizing in Iowa is, and we didn’t always start with: Hillary Clinton is the best candidate running in this primary, in this caucus. It’s about let’s take a step back and let’s reintroduce you to who Hillary Clinton is, because you’ve known of her for the last 20 years, but who is she really?
[00:16:08] And like starting to have the conversation there, be able to like find what’s interesting in different ways. And I think you see a lot of that in 2020, which was really interesting to just see how it’s evolved. But at the end of the day, organizing’s fundamental core is about building relationships and showing people that there is truly more in common than there is that divides us and trying to better understand why the things that they care about and they want for their families is representative and the platform of the candidate that you’re working for.
[00:16:44] And there’s always an uphill battle with any, any campaign. And the same can be said about the 2016 campaign. And I think a lot of the things we think about when we look back at those two years of a lot of our lives, for those of us that started in Iowa, in late February, early March. Just be able to think through how do you continue to be smarter about how you organize. And part of that comes into making sure that you’re bringing in just incredibly smart, talented people from a variety of diverse backgrounds. And it’s not just looking at racial diversity or gender diversity, it’s looking at people’s backgrounds and what they studied and what previous industries they’re part of, and what they want to be able to bring to the space.
[00:17:38] And I think understanding why they care about this, this work, and why they want to be involved this time is just as important to why they support a candidate. And being able to figure out how to have those conversations with people from so many different communities, be it college students at Iowa, University of Iowa in Iowa City, to a small business owner in Jones County, where he had a diner and he just wanted to make sure that he was able to get enough business in to keep the lights on. And these are all things with what’s true about Iowa is like: yes it may not be demographically representative of the entire United States, but the stories of the people you encounter, you will find that all across the country.
[00:18:30] It’s really about how do you continue to have those conversations and build those relationships in a small community over a period of time, because it’s not going to happen overnight and you can’t just come in and assume that you’re going to win over a bunch of people because you bring in the right endorsement or you bring in a certain celebrity.
[00:18:52] It takes true, honest, genuine relationship building and level setting with people so they understand who you are, you understand who they are, and there’s this sense of trust that’s built between two people that says, this person who spent this much time with me and trying to get to know me understand what I care about, curious about my family, asks really good questions about what we’re doing in this community is working for candidate X.
[00:19:21] Maybe I should look into candidate X, because they are spouting the same values and the same morals and the same work ethic that I do. They must have had the right idea of hiring this person because they embody the things that they care about. And that’s similar to the values and the things I want to be able to see.
[00:19:44] Change in terms of policy or change in terms of how we talk about our neighbors and how things in Washington, which feels like it’s a thousand miles away and there’s a different planet from Iowa, but somehow I’ve connected with them. And it’s all happened over the period of, of sometimes weeks, sometimes months.
[00:20:06] And there are people in Iowa that will literally tell you: I’m not going to make a decision. So I’m not going to support anyone until we’re like a few weeks before the caucus. So please keep coming back and talking to me. Please keep telling me about the events. Please keep telling me about different policies and things that your candidate is excited about, but I’m not going to make my decision until well down the line.
[00:20:30] And like they take their commitment extremely seriously, because we measured our entire program by identifying people that, so they would commit to caucus for Hillary Clinton and they sign these “commit to caucus” cards. And they literally wouldn’t sign it unless they were 100% certain that they want to show up and caucus for Hillary Clinton.
[00:20:53] And there’s something we said about being true to your word, and saying: I’m not going to make this decision lightly. I recognize the timing of the Iowa caucus, I recognize what it means for the trajectory of the campaign and for the cycle. And I’m gonna take my job as an Iowan, as an American really seriously, and I’m going to think really long, hard before I commit who has earned my support.
[00:21:25] Kevin: Right. And what’s interesting, as I’m listening to you talk about how you build your team and the kind of talent you want, to build a really good program to win a caucus, it really emphasized the craft of organizing, which I think is really underappreciated, right? Like when you were talking about these caucus goers who are not supporting you right away, but they obviously don’t mind you keep on coming back.
[00:21:53] You know, that’s not a hard: no. That just saying: I take this responsibility very seriously, and in a way, it’s almost like them kind of sizing up a campaign and the quality of the organizers much more than the candidates themselves. In a way, like if you, candidate X can really bring on these quality people to organize your campaign and coming back to me and respect my community and really care about what we care about, eventually I will come around to you, but that’s going to take some time and to be successful in that world, it sounds like the craft of organizing is almost what you’re looking for with a potential to hone this craft of organizing and relationship building and conversation making is what you’re looking forward to build a good, successful program.
[00:22:40] Punya: Yeah, I think that, I couldn’t have said it better than that. One of my bosses is someone I really look up to from 2012. So I worked with her in Iowa right at the very beginning, and would always talk about how you just can’t come in and throw a bunch of hot sauce on it and think it’s gonna work.
[00:23:03] And I liked that. First of all: very catchy and very insightful way of putting it, but it’s so true. You can’t just assume just because you have the most money or you have the biggest name ID or because you’ve done this maybe kind of sort of before that people are going to want to support you, let alone just because someone supported Hillary Clinton in 2008, didn’t mean we didn’t have to go back to that person and fight to earn their support. And when I talk about the caucus and when I talk about organizing, we don’t deserve their support. We need to work and earn their support and earn their trust just as much as the candidate believes that they need to earn the right to be able to represent their constituents, be it in Congress, in the Senate, be it in the White House.
[00:23:55] So it’s a huge responsibility. I think anyone that runs for office recognizes that, and there was no one more aware of how hard they had to fight to earn the support of voters across America than Hillary Clinton in 2016 and that was very evident when we started to just plan out the way we were going to measure our success on the ground. In the first few months, we knew it was, we’d have a lot of momentum to play with. But I distinctly remember two things we said we wanted to be able to do in the first phase in the campaign. The first thing we wanted to do was to reintroduce Hillary Clinton to Iowans.
[00:24:40] There was a perception of who she is because she’s been in the limelight for the last 20 years. She was the First Lady of Arkansas. She was the First Lady in the White House. She was a Senator. She was the Secretary of State. Like she just held a number of different positions that have put her under the harsh light of scrutiny, whether fair or unfair.
[00:25:03] And we wanted to remind people that despite all these things, this is who Hillary Clinton is. She has a tremendous resume that tells us why she would make an incredible president. But let me remind you of these things because people forget very easily, from where she started and where she grew up, to what made her the politician, she became what made her the public servant that she is, and the person that she is today.
[00:25:33] And the second part of what we want to accomplish within the first phase of that campaign was identifying a supporter in every single precinct in Iowa. At that point in Iowa, there were 1,682 precincts. And some of them, much more democratic than others.
[00:25:53] So wanting to like hustle to find an individual supporter that would say, I will caucus for Hillary Clinton was mission critical, because in order to be competitive at the precinct level caucus, you need to be able to have a precinct captain that was willing to say: I’m going to be the point person for the Hillary Clinton campaign in this precinct in Linn County, and that means I’m going to make sure that I’ve identified all of our supporters ahead of time and I’m going to know the people in my precinct, and I’m willing to make sure that they know that they need to be at this school gym by 6:30, signed in, ready to go. They’re gonna have their button or their sticker or their Hillary shirt on, and they’re going to be super excited to be here and they’re going to make sure that they bring their 10 friends, that they said they were going to bring from the neighborhood.
[00:26:49] And like be able to articulate and pull together all these people. It’s like, it’s the definition of identifying the perfect volunteer leader is a precinct captain, who is able to take that initiative and own their role in a way that does not look identical cycle to cycle. The caucus has one nuance in terms of turnout, in terms of how many people, are on the ballot in terms of like what the number: how many candidates are there that are fighting to see if we can get the delegates, to make them viable.
[00:27:28] At the end of the day, and you pointed this out earlier, but the margin for victory in Iowa in 2016 was so small and that small victory, when I look at it was because we out organized every single day. And we made it our mission to make sure that every single volunteer and every single precinct captain and organizer and intern, and anyone that touched our campaign knew that our campaign motto is, we live every single day by was: “engage with purpose, organize with heart and win every day.” And I think when we look at coming out of the Iowa caucus, it was a really hard fought victory, but it made us more hungry to push through the entire cycle.
[00:28:24] Kevin: One thing I want to segue to is you mentioned metrics as well, and the things that you’re tracking, even though we talked about organizing as a craft, it’s very much an art. There IS a science to the operation as well. You were a regional organizing director at the time for Hillary’s campaign in Iowa.
[00:28:43] Do you remember, first of all, how many organizers you had kind of under you and your operation at the height of it? Do you remember how many people you had?
[00:28:53] Punya: I think at the height of it, there were 25.
[00:28:56] Kevin: Okay. So of these 25 or so people, you obviously have to track a certain metric and goals as well. Do you remember what was the most important metric that you were tracking that ended up really kind of making a difference or giving you an a signal or indicator as to how well you’re doing on the ground?
[00:29:16] Punya: Because there were so many moving pieces and so many things are hard to capture by numbers. Yeah. I think there were two metrics in particular. Well, I’d say three. I can’t think of a single one because I think it removes the nuance of what an organizing program that’s needed for any campaign, let alone a caucus.
[00:29:37] First and foremost: precinct captains. I alluded to this earlier, a precinct captain, the person that’s going to help wrangle, for lack of better word, supporters during the caucus to ensure that: A, you are viable,and B, if there are potential people to bring over to your side, general realignment, they are able to take on that role and identify other people within their supporters, who can help usher some people over to potentially pick up a delegate or two.
[00:30:12] The second number or goal that was incredibly important was: commit to caucus cards. Because of how much value and how thoughtful caucus goers are to signing their name and saying they’re going to support someone.
[00:30:26] And the third and last metric that I think was incredibly important, and to this day, when I think about programs that we were building, and I always wonder like, why didn’t I ever think of tracking that metric?
[00:30:36] It’s the idea of: an active volunteer. This is someone that has completed at least two action shifts, and we talk about action shifts in the vein of: they knocked on doors, they made phone calls, they sent texts, that they may have hosted like a canvas launch, the canvas from their house.
[00:30:56] They completed a voter contact shift, at least twice within a specific time period. And oftentimes we’ll look at like a six week period and we shrink that six week period to four weeks because there’s less time between the point of the campaign that we were at and election day, so wanting to really get a sense of, when we look at our overall volunteer network that we’re going to need to talk to all the voters we need to talk to, we want to know how many volunteers can we really count on to project, how many doors we will knock and how many voters we’re going to talk to and how many phone calls we to need to make. And at the end of the day, when you look at any campaign, your goal is to turn people out, whether it’s for a caucus or to vote on election day.
[00:31:45] And you need to know how many people you will need in your volunteer army to reach those voters. How many touches we need to make via text, on the doors, on phone calls, to be able to move the needle that we will get that voter show up for that candidate.
[00:32:13] Kevin: Right. Interesting. I want to double click on a commit card real quick. You were talking about how difficult it was to get them because the caucus goers take their commitment so seriously, and there’s also a big time commitment for them. I think this time in 2020, the Iowa Caucus night is on a Monday night.
[00:32:29] It’s going to be cold. They have to spend their whole fricking evening, you know, running around in a gym pretty much is what it looks like. And from a regional organizing director’s perspective, running these programs, it sounds like once you get these commit cards, which are hard earned, you can more or less count on this person to really actually deliver what they said they’re going to do.
[00:32:50] Like the flake rate or the churn rate is a lot less than a primary, straight up voting, when people just sign these cards kind of willy nilly, and on the spot, but you really have to keep on calling them afterwards.
[00:33:02] Punya: That’s correct. I can’t count the number of times that an organizer, I kid you not, would drive 30 to 40 minutes just one way to get a signed commit card from a volunteer at like 7:00 PM or 8:00 PM or like 8:30, because they wanted to make sure as they secured another caucus card for Hillary Clinton or we did like a mail program where we would have supporters write letters to voters who identify a particular issue, and they share in that letter, why they’re caucusing for Hillary Clinton and may include a pre-addressed envelope, and they included like a blank commit card and that got mailed to them down. And then we get the cards mailed back to us. Sometimes we’d go and chase those commit cards. We would have had sent in a letter with a volunteer.
[00:33:56] I didn’t realize what like the hustle was, right? You’d think you know what the hustle is when you’re on a campaign because like everyone’s working really hard. But like I truly don’t think there was anyone on our team that wasn’t like: I’m not going to rest until I get this commit card from this one volunteer in Delaware County because it’s an incredibly hard rural county to organize in.
[00:34:21] But I’m going to like drive 40 minutes out of my way because I got to get that commit card, not just for the sake of hitting a goal, but for the sake of having the reassurance that I know this means that this person is going to show up on caucus night for Hillary Clinton, and that gets us one step closer to getting a delegate, to being viable, and to potentially pulling in other delegates along the way.
[00:34:46] Kevin: And chances are this caucus goer has been work done or had been communicated with by this organizer for five to six months at that point. It’s like a long haul just to get to that level of relationship to even let you come to my house to pick up a card.
[00:35:04] Punya: It’s that on top of the fact that I’m not the only person trying to get your support. You know, in 2016 there were O’Malley organizers on the ground, Sanders organizers on the ground, who were fighting just as hard to get the support of the same island that we needed.
[00:35:20] And you know, you went to the same committee meetings, you went to the same community events, and you’d see the same organizer, the same regional. I’m like, you get into this mindset of: I have to like, I have to outwork and I have to work harder than the other side. Right? At the end of the day, we are progressives. We care about the same values. We want to make sure we, at that point in time, we’re preserving the legacy that President Obama built. But like, you’re just, you’re just so focused on how do you ensure that you don’t fall short and the people you need to willingly show up at 7:00 PM on what is almost always a very cold night in the middle of the week, and be willing to be there for hours, potentially in some cases, and caucus for a candidate. It’s a huge commitment for anybody, whether they are first-time caucus goers or not. We took that commitment very seriously. And there are other states that caucus and other states that have similar or different rules.
[00:36:36] And in those states, it was just as hard and just as rigorous to ensure that we were taking the process seriously and respecting the process because it’s been done this way for the past several cycles, and it’s incumbent upon us to respect the tradition and respect that this is the way that they are going to make their voice heard when it comes to who the nominee is.
[00:37:00] Kevin: Definitely. Now I’ve got one more question for you before we wrap up our conversation, which is on the topic of technology. And you mentioned how there is a bit of a tradition, if you will, in terms of how do you organize an Iowa caucus or Nevada caucus or any other of these caucuses.
[00:37:19] And even though, these people might’ve supported a candidate eight years ago, they’re not gonna, you can’t assume that they’re going to do that again. You have to earn their trust and earn their support again. Were there any interesting technology that was used to make this operation more effective or efficient in 2016 that you can remember?
[00:37:39] Since tech certainly impacts all levels of campaigning and in executing a good program, and is also constantly evolving.
[00:37:47] Punya: I think there were four things we did in the caucus that really stood out to me. The first is just how we utilize social. And I think there’s kind of two platforms to think of.
[00:38:03] One is Facebook and one is Twitter. Facebook was the place we decided to create a Facebook group. We gave a lot of ownership to organizers, and this is coming from the mindset where like, we told people in 2012, even 2008, like don’t post things, be very vigilant about not being a spokesperson for the campaign, or putting anything out there.
[00:38:30] We were encouraging organizers to basically create an online community and create a space on Facebook where they could generate engagements with the volunteers. And hopefully, the hope is to then move them to a field office, to come knock doors or do phone calls and vice versa to continue to grow that online community.
[00:38:53] People knew they weren’t alone. They weren’t the only supporters of Hillary Clinton in their precinct or in their, in many cases, in their county.
[00:39:01] The second thing we did was trying to figure out how do we continue to tell a story of the work that we were doing and doing it in a way that was authentic.
[00:39:14] It’s not always about the right hashtag or taking the right picture, but wanting to make sure that any time we identified someone that said, I am going to support Hillary Clinton in the caucus, being able to take a snapshot and tell their story, whether it was in a post on Facebook or even just tweeting about it. And it became this part of the regular nature of our work, where it was just important to do call time from 5 to 9, as it was to post a story or post an event that someone could attend to meet other Hillary supporters in their area.
[00:39:53] There were two other pieces that I think were also particularly interesting. One was a piece of, a development that came out of the campaign. We developed a caucus app that we deployed to all of our precinct captains, whether they had an Android or an iPhone, that would help them quickly tally up their supporters that they had and determine what the caucus math was in terms of how many delegates there were in the room, both in terms of being able to count up the Sanders supporters and the O’Malley supporters, and then be able to think, if we get two more people over to our side, we’ll get another delegate, or are we pre-splitting delegates, one and one between Sanders and Clinton. We just tried to meet some O’Malley people to come over to our side, to hopefully maybe take the split delegate, or get two delegates for Hillary Clinton.
[00:40:54] So that was just like a unique tool that was developed over a period of time that took a lot of training, in a lot of implementation, and also have like a component to be able to direct people to a hotline, if there was an issue with the caucus. And being able to kind of take it all that incoming was definitely a lift.
[00:41:14] And I think every kind of iteration of any campaign has had some sort of technology that’s kind of come to fruition that’s supposed to help.
[00:41:31] Kevin: And if I could interrupt you real quick, Punya, sorry. So just on this app alone.
[00:41:35] So this app for your precinct captain, this is supposed to be used in real time on caucus night as this person is working the room, literally, of the caucus site and counting up supporter numbers for everybody, right? Who is there, but also giving that data to the campaign in real time and the campaign can actually tell this precinct captain, how many specifically, literally, how many people do we still need in our corner to be able to get one more delegate or two more delegate, which would not be obvious in the minds of the people who are in those gyms because they’re part of the chaos of the moment.
[00:42:16] Punya: Exactly. It was our way to get real time reports from precinct captains of what was happening. It basically followed the entire flow of a caucus from the initial alignments to the realignment and submitting what those final numbers were in terms of how many supporters were there for O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton.
[00:42:39] Kevin: I see, and sorry to interrupt you. There was one more piece of tech that you were going to talk about, is that right?
[00:42:43] Punya: Yeah. So the last piece is just peer to peer texting. Early on, you know, we used one platform and then we ended up developing another platform in-house. This piece I’d say evolved a lot over the last couple of cycles, both in 2018 and then also even in the 2017 races that are happening in the handful of the state legislatures.
[00:43:11] But being able to use SMS, being peer to peer as a way to have a one-to-one conversation with someone was different than the way the technology might have been perceived to have been used in previous cycles. And I think the final point I want to put on technology, and different apps and tools that have come to fruition over the last cycle has been…
[00:43:44] You know, 2008 we have this concept of new media. And then we slowly integrated some Twitter and Facebook elements in 2012 and in 2016, we gave much more free reign to our organizers to use these, as a way to really bring more people into the organization, bring people from online actions to offline offices to be able to do actual voter contact and vice versa.
[00:44:12] And you continue to see it evolve in 2018. I am sure 2020 is going to be no different, where we see the continued evolution of different ways you can reach voters. And I think the important thing to remember is, despite all these advances we’ve seen in technology, there has been nothing that has replaced a face to face conversation you can have with someone on the doors.
[00:44:39] There’s nothing that has replaced the importance of an organizer calling a volunteer and saying: hi, I’m the organizer in your neighborhood and your community. Can you have a one on one with me? And I’d love to hear more about you and how you might want to be involved in this campaign and if we can earn your support, for this election or for this caucus.
[00:44:58] And I think what’s interesting is all these advancements and tools, though they’re sexy and there was a huge splash, but I think that it can create or can attract a lot of interest from a number of different places, whether it’s from the press or from developers in ways to improve technology.
[00:45:28] These are all just things that can help enhance the ability to make sure we are smarter and better about how we talk to voters. It’s not just about a voter being a piece of mail that says the message of why you should support a specific candidate.
[00:45:44] It’s the piece of mail. It’s the phone call. It’s the knock on the door. It’s the text to the ask them to volunteer or come to a house party or a watch party or what have you, and all of these touches, whether it’s to a volunteer or to voter are all meant to try and make sure we are really, truly trying to find the best way to reach people and meeting people where they are.
[00:46:10] Because at the end of the day, that’s what organizing is. It’s meeting people where they are. It’s filling those relationships and getting them to want to be a part of something larger than themselves and feeling this ownership that they themselves are going to be part of the reason why change happens.
[00:46:30] That’s the same reason why I volunteered 12 years ago. It’s the same reason that I continued to find myself in the organizing space and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see how it’s evolved, and I’m excited to see what it continues to grow into.
[00:46:53] Kevin: Well, that’s a perfect way to end this conversation. And also some really sage advice, I think for all the organizers out there who are laboring in the fields of Iowa or Nevada, organizing caucuses in particular, no matter what sexy, cool, hip tech that’s on your phone or that you’re telling your volunteers to install, it ultimately doesn’t replace human to human contact and interaction.
[00:47:17] Punya, thank you so much for sharing all of this incredible wisdom and experience and certainly schooling me on how the hell a caucus works, and hopefully our listeners got some out of this as well. Where can people follow you on social media? I know you’re fairly active out there as well. Where should people follow your work going forward?
[00:47:37] Punya: [00:47:37] Yeah. Everyone can follow me on twitter @_punya_. Follow along and see what’s happening, both in the organizing space and in pop culture. If I can just make one more plug for any of your listeners.
[00:47:57] The caucus is obviously fast approaching. There are hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that are going to do incredible work. And on top of that, hundreds of hundreds of organizers who are going to be making a lot of phone calls and sending a lot of texts and asking you to fill a shift. Say yes.
[00:48:18] It’s I think something that everyone should do at least once in their life. If they’re lucky to be able to help encourage their family, their friends, their community to go out and vote and be involved. So if you live anywhere near Iowa, and you want to really get a sense of up close and personal and what it really means to organize.
[00:48:45] It’s going to be very cold. So bring extra gloves. Wear a heavy coat and a hat.But I can guarantee you will have an incredible experience and literally be witnessing history.
[00:48:59] Kevin: Absolutely. Well, thank you Punya. Everyone go follow @_punya_. Sign up for a caucus shift in Iowa if you are in that area, or even if you’re not, just fly over. It’s really not that bad.
[00:49:11] Punya, thank you so much for your time today.
[00:49:14] Punya: Appreciate you, Kevin.