The Art of Retail Politics

By Michael Harris

Congratulations, you’re a Precinct Committeeperson! Like many of us, you got fired up after the election, found your Legislative District and said “sign me up!” You just had to DO something!

PCs are the bedrock of the party. When you hear about the “ground game” of a campaign, that’s YOU. You mobilize people. You spread the word. You’re the “go-to” in your community circles. That all sounds fine, but how do you get to that point? How do reach a level where you can pick up the phone or send an email and get 100 people heading for the door?

It all comes down to building relationships. And relationships all come down to a few simple things.

When you’re first starting out as a PC, you might be tempted to ask people for things. Don’t. Let’s face it, we are all turned off when people come out of the blue and hit us up for anything, no matter how small it is. Instead, try offering things.

When you introduce yourself, tell people you are there to make sure people in your neighborhood are up to date on what’s happening in the party, and, more importantly, that you can keep the party up to date on what matters to them. You’re their voice. Offer to provide regular updates via a newsletter, coffee visits, or whatever forum works best for your area. People are hungry for information and reassurance that somebody is, in fact, doing something. Feed them!

That’s the first step. The second: keep doing it. Show up and be consistent. People trust others that do what they say. Make small promises and keep them. Do it again.

Once you’ve built a relationship and credibility, you can start asking questions. What do they think? What do they need? What are they worried about? Don’t promise to solve their problems, but let them know you’ll pass them on and find out more about options.

If you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve built trust and rapport with people in your precinct. The next ingredient: Fun. Find something you can celebrate together and make that the theme. Host a small party or picnic. The precinct that plays together, stays together.

Building these relationships takes time. It may feel frustrating that you’re only reaching a few people at a time. But an incremental approach will pay off when the time comes. You will know who you can count on to volunteer, to donate, and to bring others. You will know what will get people to go to the ballot box and what will keep them away. You’ll know when a candidate is going to resonate or fall flat. And you’ll know you can pick up the phone and mobilize them all when the time comes.

It’s a strategic choice to build intentional relationships. But these people are in your care. You are a PC! You are the bedrock. Because you bring the people.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Retail Politics

  1. John Ainlay

    Excellent blog post! Too often the role of PC is reduced to “knocking on doors.” In this over-simplification, being a PC is a pure numbers game — the more doors you knock on, the more people will turn out to vote. But what’s missing in this formulation is the precisely the relationship aspect — the process of building trust — that Is so critical to the PC ‘s success and ultimately to the success of the Democratic Party. Not only will such relationships increase voter turnout rate, but relationships built on trust are much more satisfying and enjoyable for both parties than those that are impersonal and transactional in nature. But as Michael points out, building trust takes time and effort and his practical suggestions on HOW to build such high-quality relationships are spot on and should be incorporated in every PC’s approach.

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