Geographic Approaches

The classic example of geographic targeting is the initiative campaign in which the goal is straightforward – to win – and the strategy is to assemble majorities in crucial precincts.

But organizers of non-partisan projects use the approach as well when they want to make a major impact on turnout in a specific neighborhood.

Your mission: Who?

Robby Rodriguez describes in the videos one way that non-partisan projects, like those run by SouthWest Organizing Project, use a geographic approach to targeting.  In the first clip, he explains that election organizers have made it their mission to target certain sections of society based on input from the organization’s membership and discussion with their ally, SAGE Council, and a campaign consulting firm. So far, so demographic. Where the geographic element comes in are the strategizing sessions when project planners decide just who among their broad target demographic will be getting a visit from their volunteers in this particular election cycle. Robby talks about the geographic factors that influence their decision in the second clip.

Your strategy: Where?

SWOP has discovered that they get the best results when they target districts where the election is especially competitive. In these areas, the turnout numbers will speak volumes to the winning candidate. Community Voices Heard have also used the closeness of a race to their advantage. Henry Serrano has said:

“If we were able to go and get the newly elected city councilperson in the district in East Harlem, it didn’t hurt to say that, ‘You know what? We contacted 2,600 voters and moved 70% of those to vote.’ We can’t identify who they voted for, but to talk to an elected official, that speaks in a language that they understand.”

In nonpartisan projects and initiative campaigns alike, the “swing factor” of particular precincts or congressional districts may be the most important criterion for geographic targeting decisions, but its not the only one. Another factor to consider is your organization’s presence in the area. Many organizers try to work in neighborhoods where a number of their members make their homes; one of the greatest benefits of the integrated voter engagement model is that neighbors reach out to neighbors. That said, the reverse is also true. You may want to increase your presence in an area, as CVH set out to do in the public housing projects of the South Bronx. Volunteers and voters may not use the same bus stop, but if they face similar challanges and care about the same issues, the results will be great.

Integrated voter engagement begins with a mission, laid out by your organization, which includes a description of the folks that you'd like to see exercising their civic power. This must be at the heart of your targeting strategy, whether the approach you choose is demographic or geographic. You’ll make the most of your position in the community and maximize the potential for building both base and political power.

Click to hear from an organizer

Robby Rodriguez explains that the demographic that SWOP targets was decided by its membership as well as ally organizations Robby Rodriguez: identifying voters to target

SWOP does electoral work in areas that are most competitive, a strategy that, as Robby Rodriguez explains, brings more effective results Robby Rodriguez: finding those voters

Anthony Thigpenn talks about a two-level approach to targeting. Anthony Thigpenn: looking for places where SCOPE can make an impact