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A $18 Million Per Year Investment Plan for Democrats to Control the Texas House

Key Workers Art at the Manchester Gallery of Art, Manchester, England

In 2020, Texas Democrats had raised $26.7 million by the end of July for Texas Congressional races.

Given the outcome, that was not money well spent.

Democrats nationally spent $6.9 billion on White House and Congressional elections.

It’s inevitable that some of this money is wasted. Money is spent on candidates who either have no chance of winning or who are almost certainly guaranteed to win, no matter how much money they spend.

Yet, it is on the state and local level that many of the issues which affect people are decided. For example, once Dobbs was overturned, decisions went to the states on what abortion rights women had.

In states where conservatives rule, the outcomes are predictable.

For example, in trying to get people to believe an ineluctable fact that Joe Biden won the 2020 election, most of the efforts focus on the facts, such as the failure of any single judicial effort to overturn the results of any election. These efforts are unsuccessful because of the backfire effect, meaning that when you show someone who believes something, such as that Trump actually won the election, facts that counter their beliefs, they simply double down on their beliefs, because it is more important to feel like they belong to a certain group than to be right about a given issue (or issues) in which the group does not believe.

Inclusion is more important to humans than being right.

Recently, I read David McRaney’s excellent book How Minds Change that discusses the efforts and effects of door-to-door canvassing in changing people’s minds about hot-button topics like the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Without giving away the plot, the approach does not involve confronting people who hold deeply-held beliefs with facts right up front. Instead, it focuses on building rapport and commonality and getting people to a point of changing their minds on their own.

This approach has been shown to have a 13% success rate when used by trained canvassers.

How to Use the McRaney Approach in Texas Elections in a Cost-Effective Manner

Naturally, this approach is time and personnel intensive. It’s easier to buy a bunch of television ads and blanket the airwaves hoping that sheer force of making people watch political ads during every commercial break during football season will yield results.

So far, in Texas, this has not worked.

Instead, the Democrats in Texas should look at where they can get maximum leverage for an incremental investment.

In 2020, Republicans won 83 Texas House seats and Democrats won 67.

Therefore, Democrats would need to flip 9 seats to gain a majority in the House.

Not every district would be an appropriate target for an intensive door-to-door campaign. For example, in District 2, the winning Republican candidate won 81% of the vote. Given a 13% success rate for converting voters, there are simply not enough voters in the district to be able to change those margins.

So, the approach would be to identify several targeted districts where the margins of victory were small enough that an intensive door-to-door campaign could flip the district.

I have identified 12 districts which could be potential targets, and, if the efforts were successful, Democrats would control the Texas House by a 79 to 71 margin.

The Costs of Flipping 12 Texas House Seats Using Deep Canvassing

The plan of a deep canvassing campaign would be to have enough of these McRaney described conversations to create enough votes with a margin of error such that the seat would be flipped from Republican to Democrat with room to spare.

With a 13% success rate, in order to gain one vote, canvassers would need to talk to approximately 7.7 people.

Based on the number of votes needed to win the 12 “flippable” seats for the Democrats, I have identified that canvassers would need to have 331,512 conversations.

With a rate of 2 conversations per hour (remember, most conversations will not be successful, and will, therefore, be somewhat shorter than a successful conversion), this would mean that canvassers would need 165,756 conversation hours in order to flip votes in the targeted districts.

Given that the stickiness of deep canvassing is at least three months, such an effort would need to occur three months before the election.

Therefore, assuming 160 working hours in a month, this would take 346 conversation months in order to achieve the targeted number of conversations.

To accomplish this, the Texas Democratic Party would need to hire and train 116 deep canvassers to go door-to-door to have these conversations.

But, even though results are sticky, it would make no sense for the party to temporarily train and hire these workers and then let them go. The tribal knowledge and influence would dissipate, meaning that, each election cycle, the party would need to rebuild the efforts.

Instead, the party should hire these workers permanently to allow them work, influence, and learn all year long. Furthermore, as seats are flipped, other opportunities may arise, meaning that the party could become more flexible in deploying these workers to areas of need.

But, hiring workers alone will not be enough.

First off, those canvassers will need benefits.

The canvassers will need supervisors.

They will need transportation.

They will need computers.

They will need training.

Let’s look at the specific costs:

Canvassers

I assume that a canvasser can be hired full-time for $75,000 per year.

Given a 1.25x benefits full load (taxes, insurance, etc.), this comes to an annual cost of $93,750 per canvasser.

With 116 canvassers, the labor costs total $10,875,000.

Additionally, each canvasser will need transportation.

I assume a $2,000/month cost for transportation, as they will be driving from neighborhood to neighborhood to have these deep canvassing conversations.

That makes auto costs $3,168,000 per year.

Supervisors and Director

I assume that for every 8 canvassers, a supervisor is needed.

Therefore, this effort will need 15 supervisors.

I estimate a supervisor’s salary to be $90,000 per year, so a fully loaded cost per supervisor would be $112,500.

15 supervisors would cost $1,687,500.

Running the organization is a director. I estimate the director’s salary to be $250,000, making the fully loaded cost $312,500.

Other Costs

I assume each individual will need a computer and equipment, estimated at $1,250 per year.

I also assume other costs, such as HR, training, support, list purchasing, etc. at $1,250,000 per year.

This makes the total annual cost $17,458,000.

Category Cost
Canvassers labor $10,875,000
Supervisors labor $1,687,500
Director labor $312,500
Transportation $3,168,000
Computers $165,000
Other miscellaneous costs $1,250,000
   
Total cost $17,458,000

Conclusions

Not every election is winnable. However, there are winnable elections that are not generally expected if the party uses the correct approach to winning the election.

Given the amount of money raised by the Democratic party, it is possible to gain enough control at the state level of government to create some blocking mechanisms to extremist positions.

However, the spending must be targeted at winnable districts.

This can be a template for many red states, both at state and local levels.

The concept is not to win every election. It is not to blanket the airwaves. It is to strategically invest to win control of a branch of government to then build from there.

Relative to the amount of money spent in elections, this is a cheap investment that can continue to yield results that can have cascading effects in other elections and other political movements.

It goes counter to the typical approach of spending on advertising and blanketing the airwaves and the Internet with messages that, psychologically, have been shown not to have the intended effect.

Instead, the party should spend incremental money in a targeted approach that does have proven results and, if chosen wisely, can win elections that can change the hands of government.

Published by

Jason Hull was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business. He held a CFP certification from 2015 - 2021. You can read more about him in the About Page. If you live in Johnson County, Texas or the surrounding areas, he and his wife are cash buyers of Johnson County, Texas houses.

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