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A report on the Center for Racial and Gender Equity's 2022 electoral campaign

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Democracy's Last Stand

In 2022, as the nation confronted one of the most consequential elections in a generation, the Center for Racial and Gender Equity (CRGE) rose to the urgency of the moment by launching our most ambitious voter mobilization campaign to date. While the size of our program this year was smaller than in past cycles, it was the geographies where we worked that made this our toughest and most successful civic engagement program to date. 
 
The mounting prospect of a red wave election threatened a dark new era of deepening austerity, continued assaults on our fundamental rights, and a final deathblow to the nation’s fragile democracy, the dire consequences of which would weigh heaviest on Black and Brown communities.

In order to help upend the threat of sweeping Republican victories in the midterm elections, CRGE launched a multi-state campaign centered on six key battleground races. These 2022 targets required CRGE to quickly adapt our traditional political tactics, shifting focus from local races to state and federal contests, broadening our messages to address a diverse base of democratic leaning voters, and expanding our fieldwork beyond urban centers to include suburban, exurban and rural areas. For the first time in eight years, we did not knock on the door of a single voter inside the city of Chicago.

Through canvassing, phone banking, text messaging, and targeted social media ads, CRGE reached over 300,000 voters and helped to secure important Democratic victories at the state and federal level.

Identifying Key Races

In the midterm elections, CRGE centered its field plan around six priority races. In Illinois, CRGE targeted the state’s four most competitive congressional districts, campaigning to defend three vulnerable congressional seats and flip one Republican held district. In Wisconsin, CRGE directed its fieldwork in support of two statewide candidates, Democratic incumbent Governor Tony Evers and Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes. CRGE focused its voter mobilization efforts in the six Wisconsin counties that have relatively high populations of Black voters and are among the state's most populous areas.

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In Illinois, CRGE focused field campaign efforts on the state's four most competitive congressional districts.

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In Wisconsin, CRGE targeted its fieldwork to six key counties that have a relatively high population of Black voters.

Broadening Our Messages

In past election cycles, CRGE has focused its mobilization efforts almost exclusively on Black voters. However, given Wisconsin’s relatively low Black population, CRGE expanded its 2022 field plan to include non-Black voters with low racial resentment scores, which we determined using modeling from TargetSmart. Moreover, social media platforms implemented new restrictions on political ad placement, which limited CRGE's ability to target individual messages to specific demographic groups.

 

These new challenges necessitated a strategic narrative approach that would address the priorities of Black voters while also resonating with Democrats from other demographic groups. To that end, CRGE conducted a series of messaging testswith the help of our partners at the Othering And Belonging Institute, to determine which narrative frameworks would most effectively unite and mobilize voters across diverse communities. CRGE directly applied the findings of these tests in crafting our 2022 field and phone scripts, campaign literature, targeted video ads, and online information.

Strength in Numbers

In Illinois and Wisconsin, CRGE carried out an ambitious mobilization program with a total reach of over 300,000 voters through canvassing, phone banking, text messaging, and targeted social media ads. Because we primarily worked outside of the main urban centers of Milwaukee and Chicago, we were able to engage voters we normally don’t talk to, and who are usually never contacted by any candidate or political party.

312K

86K voters reached

voters reached via field and digital outreach

134K voters reached

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226K voters reached

33K

3K texts sent

text messages to voters in Illinois in Wisconsin

134K voters reached

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30K texts sent

72K

31K doors knocked

doors knocked in Illinois and Wisconsin

134K voters reached

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41k doors knocked

129K

17K video ad views

voters viewed our targeted video ads 

134K voters reached

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112K video ad views

76K

34K calls made

calls made in Illinois and Wisconsin

134K voters reached

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42K calls made

18K

2K webpage views

voters visited our election info webpage

134K voters reached

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16K webpage views 

Key Victories

CRGE had the privilege of being part of the America Votes table in Wisconsin, and we collectively knocked on over 2.3 million doors, made over 4.5 million calls and had conversations with nearly 900k voters in Wisconsin. In Illinois, as we have done for the past several election cycles, CRGE worked with our strategic partners at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, to engage voters about the importance of racial solidarity and building an inclusive multiracial democracy.

 

CRGE's expansive field and digital campaigns helped play a critical role in securing several key Democratic victories in the 2022 midterms. In the Illinois congressional districts where CRGE mobilized, voters defended three vulnerable Democratic seats and flipped one district from red to blue. In Wisconsin, CRGE's targeted field campaign helped secure victory for Democratic incumbent Tony Evers in the heavily contested governor's race.

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Key Learnings from the 2022 Elections

In every election cycle we make mistakes, and sometimes we make a lot of them. But the important thing is that we always learn from them, and become better for it on the other side. Here are a few key takeaways from our work in Illinois and Wisconsin:

 

  • Take a position early. In Wisconsin we waited until after the Primaries in August before we got behind a candidate for Senator. Unfortunately that gave us less than three months to try to persuade voters to support Mandela Barnes. He lost his race by less than 27,000 votes. Even though Barnes was not assured the nomination, had we gotten behind him earlier, we believe we could have helped close the gap to secure him a victory.

  • Not all knocks are created equal. We need to get smarter to determine just how many knocks and conversations it will take to both persuade a voter to support our candidate, and also to persuade a voter to actually turn out. While a swing voter in Rock County Wisconsin might only need one contact to persuade him or her to support Mandela Barnes, it might take four conversations to persuade a voter in Milwaukee County just to show up and vote. Moving forward, we are committed to strengthening our analysis to know the right number of knocks and contacts for every voter in our universe.

  • Late primaries don’t help. Having primaries after the month of May only helps incumbents and the super-rich who can self-finance their own campaigns. Grassroots organizations like ours need more time to help raise the profile of candidates we support, and help define who they are before the opposition can. In Illinois where the primary was held at the end of June, it didn’t make much difference in the outcomes of the races where we worked, but that’s largely because of the politics of the state. In Wisconsin, on the other hand, less than three months to convince voters to support Mandela Barnes was just not enough time.

Acknowledments

CRGE gratefully acknowledges all of the institutional and individual donors who made our work possible this year. Given the current political climate, we have chosen not to publicly list the names of our supporters, in order to protect their privacy and safety.