Groundbreakers: How Obama's 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America

Groundbreakers: How Obama's 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America

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Much has been written about the historic nature of the Obama campaign. The multi-year, multi-billion dollar operation elected the nation's first black president, raised and spent more money than any other election effort in history, and built the most sophisticated voter targeting technology ever before used on a national campaign. What is missing from most accounts of the campaign is an understanding of how Obama for America recruited, motivated, developed, and managed its formidable army of 2.2 million volunteers. Unlike previous field campaigns that drew their power from staff, consultants, and paid canvassers, the Obama campaign's capacity came from unpaid local citizens who took responsibility for organizing their own neighborhoods months—and even years—in advance of election day. In so doing, Groundbreakers argues, the campaign engaged citizens in the work of practicing democracy. How did they organize so many volunteers to produce so much valuable work for the campaign? This book describes how.

Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han argue that the legacy of Obama for America extends beyond big data and micro-targeting; it also reinvigorated and expanded traditional models of field campaigning. Groundbreakers makes the case that the Obama campaign altered traditional ground games by adopting the principles and practices of community organizing. Drawing on in-depth interviews with OFA field staff and volunteers, this book also argues that a key achievement of the OFA's field organizing was its transformative effect on those who were a part of it. Obama the candidate might have inspired volunteers to join the campaign, but it was the fulfilling relationships that volunteers had with other people—and their deep belief that their work mattered for the work of democracy—that kept them active.

Groundbreakers documents how the Obama campaign has inspired a new way of running field campaigns, with lessons for national and international political and civic movements.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199394609
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 01/05/2015
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 340,894
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth McKenna is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Hahrie Han is Associate Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College.

Jeremy Bird served as the National Field Director for Obama for America and is a founding partner at political consulting firm 270 Strategies.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction

Part I: The Historical Roots of the Obama Field Program

Chapter Two: The Way Things Were

Chapter Three: Discovery and Diffusion

Part II: The Nuts and Bolts of the Ground Game

Chapter Four: Building Depth By Investing in Relationships

Chapter Five: Creating a Structure to Share Responsibility: Neighborhood Teams

Chapter Six: Using Metrics to Get to Scale

Part III: OFA's Legacy

Chapter Seven: Reflection

Works Cited


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