Saturday, June 30, 2018

Confessions Of A Phonebanker


Modern phone-banking isn't this glamorous-- and you needn't leave your home

-by a Phonebanker

After 8 years, making phone calls to voters on behalf of progressive candidates comes easy. Every afternoon or evening during election season, I open my laptop and log on to one of the many remote phone banks operated by political action committees. I obtain a login pin, dial a number, and wait for the beep that connects me to a voter in the district I am dialing. I talk to the voter about the candidate I am calling for, log their response, and wait for the next number. After an hour or an hour and a half of this, I hang up and log out.

I first started making calls to voters in 2010. A populist Democrat in Arkansas, Lt. Gov Bill Halter, was challenging the incumbent, Blanche Lincoln, for her Senate seat. It was just after the passage of Obamacare and Lincoln was one of the many Senators who opposed a public option, much to Halter’s criticism. Halter looked like he had a good shot to win the primary and I agreed with his positions, even though I didn’t live in the state. was backing Halter and running a phone bank for him. I logged on to their page and started making calls. Although Halter ended up losing, it was not the end for me. I continued to make calls for MoveOn, Democracy for America, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) throughout the year. When the 2012 cycle came around, I made calls again. This time, I was recognized by the PCCC as one of their top callers. And when I began interning on campaigns, I continued to make calls on behalf of candidates in other districts when I wasn’t phone banking for my internship.

This year, I have been making calls for candidates endorsed by Justice Democrats and Democracy for America. I first made 12 ½ hours worth of calls on behalf of Greg Edwards, an African-American pastor running in the redrawn Pennsylvania 7th District. Edwards was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and up against two candidates, a liberal Democrat endorsed by Emily’s List and a conservative, Trump-supporting Democrat who was backed by the deceitful No Labels. When I read that one of their PACs was spending money to attack Edwards in favor of their right-of-center candidate, I made sure that the voters who I talked to were aware of No Labels and their deceptive mailers. Although Edwards ended up losing the primary, so did the No Labels-backed candidate. Still, I managed to get people out to the polls who I don't think would have done so otherwise and to sign up people to volunteer for Edwards.

After the primaries in Pennsylvania, I began making calls to voters on behalf of Doug Applegate, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, and Katie Porter. For Katie Porter, I was making calls using Hubdialer and found the system to be much more difficult than Justice Dialer, which I used to call voters in PA-07 and NM-01, and PhoneBurner, which Doug Applegate’s campaign used for their calls. Once again, I had to inform voters about interference by No Labels, this time in New Mexico, where they were supporting Damon Martinez. When June 5 arrived, Porter defeated New Dem PAC-endorsed Dave Min in the primary. However, Doug Applegate and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ended up losing their primaries. While Lopez lost to Deb Haaland, a candidate who is expected to be our nation's first Native American Congresswoman, Applegate ended up losing to one of the "Johnny-Come-Latelies" who were absent in 2016.

To me, making calls in primary and general elections is a crucial element in whether a candidate wins or loses. It is just as effective as canvassing door to door and, unlike television advertising, is inexpensive. Many people who I have spoken to over the phone expressed their appreciation for what I am doing. A father in the Pennsylvania 7th who was unsure about supporting Greg Edwards in the primary changed his mind when I talked about Edwards' support for debt-free college. Spending large amounts of time on the cell phone can be taxing though. Especially on the day of the election when you’re trying to get as many people out to the polls as possible to support your candidate.

I have recorded a wide variety of responses from the voters I talked to. The calls are usually par for the course, with potential voters expressing support for the candidate, politely declining to answer, or hanging up all together. There have been instances when I have dealt with hostile callers, who have said that I am "fucking crazy" or that my candidates could go fuck themselves. A person who I called on behalf of Doug Applegate attempted to evangelize me over the phone. Another voter who was living in the California 45th told me that she was a Jehovah’s Witness and was not concerned with politics. There have been numerous instances where a prospective voter has asked how I have obtained their number. The explanations that their number came through the call dialing software that I was using did not ameliorate their discomfort. And then there are the times where a voter tells me that they have been overwhelmed with contacts from campaigns that they ask to be taken off the list of calls and mailings. One person in the California 49th told me that the political mailings he received exceeded the last 5 years combined and that he had enough of them to fill a dumpster. I think that if there are multiple Democratic groups endorsing one candidate, there should be greater coordination with the phone banks, so that potential voters aren’t overwhelmed with excessive calls.

In these trying times, we must all remain alert and ready to fight for the 99% of Americans. Ordinary Americans cannot allow hard-fought progressive achievements to be scuttled by politicians in both parties who are more focused on their donors and consultants. If we turn out, as we did last summer when Obamacare was threatened, we can elect politicians who will be more responsive to the citizenry and send a message to those who are comfortably entrenched in their, to quote Bernie Sanders, "1st Class Seats on the Titanic." All it takes is setting an hour or two a day and picking up the phone.

HUAC by Chip Proser

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At 3:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have done a lot of phone banking in my time, and have run a lot of phone banks. I will not pick up the phone for out of state calls, and will not make calls out of state, or even out of the jurisdiction in which the candidate I support is running.

Over the years, I have learned that the three most effective words any phone banker can use, to get voters to listen to your pitch, is "I'm your neighbor." No technology in the world is a match for that, and people who think it is are just kidding themselves.

At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone can sit with a hone in one's ear and look like they are doing something, Barry. Ever find your comfortable shoes so you could march with union teachers in Madison?

Nevermind. "Just Us-uns" Gorsuch and Kennedy took care of them so that you are off the hook now. By the time you find those shoes and remember how to wear them, there won't be any unions.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger samuel glover said...

I really appreciate the practical observations. I'm in a state that will reliably churn out Dems (e.g., Steny Hoyer), so there's little reason for me to work on many in-state campaigns. It's races in other states where the need is greater, so this article helps me plan how to best use my time from now until November.


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