What off-cycle? The themes that have driven us since our founding in 2017 remain the same even though political control in Washington, DC changed last November: state legislatures are critically important but neglected, and improved digital communication is the best way to win those races. State legislatures control access to reproductive rights, affordable healthcare, gun safety issues, and more. Crucially, they also control voting laws and election administration in crucial swing states for 2024’s elections.
We’ve now worked with almost 500 campaigns, grown our skilled tech volunteer community to almost 16,000 people, and crystallized multiple technology tools into our Learning Engine. This deep experience and aptitude is focused on leveraging digital communications to elect Democrats to state legislatures. There are three tenets to our strategy—direct state support, data and experimentation, and technology.
Partnering with the Virginia House Democrats for the third cycle in a row, we worked with 19 campaigns, deployed 139 skilled volunteers, built 12 websites, raised almost $150k for candidates, and ran more than 10m ad impressions. We also worked with the House Democrats on strategic message testing initiatives that helped the entire slate of candidates steer clear of messaging landmines on hot-button issues.
While the results were not what we hoped for, the House of Delegates changed back to Republican hands by only 221 votes (across two districts combined!) To us, this showed how important our work was—these are the margins where programs like TFC’s make a difference.
We were proud to support a diverse set of candidates, in rural areas of Virginia where Democratic infrastructure is typically lacking, and all across the commonwealth across a variety of backgrounds. Our candidates were:
Delegate, VA HD-21
Delegate, VA HD-50
VanValkenburg for Delegate,
We also prepared for 2022 in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. One project stood out: partnering with the Pennsylvania House Democrats to launch PA Insurrectionists, a site showcasing the 14 Pennsylvania House Republicans who did not condemn the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. It’s a powerful digital asset that highlights the presence of the far-right in our state legislatures.
At the same time, we added campaign training materials and advisories to our website, including:
More to come on this early in 2022...
Digital Ads, Texting, and Vote By Mail
We analyzed our projects, vote-by-mail initiative, and released our annual digital ads and texting reports. The reports touched on multiple aspects, but as one quick example—although Democratic campaigns are spending substantially more on digital media than in 2018, they are still far behind commercial advertisers. Many state Democrats are still spending huge sums on broadcast television, where we estimate voter impact can be as much as 12x more expensive versus digital media.
In 2020, voting by mail was critical, and we expect it to continue to be as as Republicans create deliberate barriers to voting. In April 2020, TFC and partners began developing and scaling effective tactics for mail voting. We ran two randomized experiments and a general election program that reached more than 20 million people, signed up 434,000 people to vote by mail and led to a sizable estimated 8.4 percentage point increase in voting rates.
See our 2020 Digital Ads Report and Texting Report.
Our 2020 vote-by-mail initiative tested thousands of targeting and creative combinations, and our 2021 analysis showed that this testing paid off! We reached more diverse and harder-to-contact voters. Capitalizing on these efforts, we ran a randomized advertising experiment in New Jersey in 2021, testing our lessons learned, examining what's changed, and supporting Governor Phil Murphy’s re-election.
In 2021, we launched our Learning Engine to track what works election cycle over cycle. This is a long-term project to harness our years of data and nationwide footprint to bring valuable insights to our staff, volunteers, and campaign partners. In 2021, we rolled out new data pipelines for our ads and email projects.
For email, we provided new performance insights for topic, timing, and other facets—in 2021, our, average donation per email was up 27% to $69.02 versus 2020. On the advertising side, our Facebook and Google ads dashboards help optimize targeting for maximum reach, find high-performing video creative, and suggest A/B testing opportunities.
We’re already filling the queue with candidates who are looking to make their mark in 2022 - our goal is to service 175 state legislative campaigns across the areas of digital strategy, advertising, email marketing, and texting. We also intend to continue our vote-by-mail efforts, which means lots of opportunities to drive voter turnout. If there’s one thing for certain, the competition in 2022 will be fierce and we’re looking forward to continuing the fight!See Our 2022 Strategy