Even though Democrats won the presidency in 2020, it was a tough year for down-ballot progressives across the country. Though there were opportunities to expand the majority in the House, flip state legislatures, and take the Senate, Democrats found themselves after the election with a smaller majority in the house, reduced influence in state legislatures, and just a slim majority in the Senate. Democratic underperformance trended even larger in rural districts, but this pattern wasn’t universal.
Maine Senate District 13, located along the coast between Portland and Bangor, looked similar to many of the other promising down-ballot districts in 2020: it was nestled in between blue districts and was held by a Republican who just barely kept the seat during 2018’s Blue Wave. If Democrats could improve on their performance in the previous election, it would flip in 2020. Unlike many of the similarly promising districts in 2020, District 13 stood out in 2020 because it actually did flip in an extremely tough election cycle for down-ballot Democrats.
Thanks to an amazing candidate in Chloe Maxmin, stellar management from Canyon Woodward, an energized campaign team, and a strategy that built rapport with previously Republican voters, Maine Senate District 13 is now represented by a Democrat. Chloe’s Bluebonnet team worked to support her campaign’s success through several projects, including a breakdown of trends in previous elections, an automated system to create personalized thank you cards for volunteers, an analysis of voter opinion swings in the district. In this case study, we will do a brief breakdown of the various projects.
Visualization of Election Results over the Previous 10 Years
Understanding previous elections is the first step in building a strategy for an upcoming election. By understanding the trends in voting behavior among the various precincts of a district, a campaign can understand what to expect out of the coming election. This helps a campaign manager to set goals for overall voter engagement, spread resources across the district effectively, and understand areas of opportunity. One of the first projects that Chloe’s Bluebonnet team undertook was to aggregate and visualize the district’s election data for the previous 10 years. A sample of this visualization can be seen below.
A sample of the charts that the team produced, showing the vote share by party for Somerville, Maine over the previous three election cycles across various races.
Visualizing Somerville county’s vote data like this allows one to easily see that while there has been a trend towards more Republican vote share, there is still quite a bit of split-ticket voting. The team produced corresponding charts for each portion of the district, allowing the campaign manager to understand the political behavior of the precincts at a glance.
Analysis of Voter Opinion Swing
Early on in the campaign, there was a question regarding how much time and effort the campaign should spend canvassing likely Republican voters. Chloe’s Bluebonnet team worked to inform this question by digging into voter opinion survey data. Their analysis of 2016, 2018, and 2020 survey data demonstrated that voters swing their opinion more than expected between elections, indicating that there might be more swing and independent votes than expected.
A plot of voter opinion-swing between 2018 and 2020. The plot demonstrates the direction and magnitude of opinion swings. A positive score indicates a swing from Republican-leaning to Democratic-leaning. A negative score indicates the reverse.
In a follow-up analysis, the team investigated the chance of a voter flipping from Republican to Democrat and vice-versa. This analysis demonstrated that people who were lean-Republican (those voters expressing a slight favorability for Republicans) in recent election surveys might still be likely to sway towards a Democratic vote and should still be canvassed. These findings ultimately supported the campaign’s decision to canvass and reach out to lean-Republican voters.
Even in a trying year for down-ballot Democratic efforts, Chloe Maxmin pushed the Democratic vote margin in her district by five percentage points and flipped a longtime Republican district. Chloe’s success in Maine Senate district 13 shows what a combination of a great candidate, a data-backed strategy, and a well-run volunteer program can achieve. Chloe’s Bluebonnet Data team supported each of those aspects of success and shows why Bluebonnet believes that we make the greatest impact when supporting strong candidates running in tough districts.
COVID-19 Map Providing Useful Information to Constituents
When the pandemic hit, many campaigns in 2020 had a difficult time adjusting. Suddenly, there was no more door-to-door campaigning, and voters were placed in a situation that might demand a very different decision-making framework. Chloe’s campaign did an excellent job of adapting to trying circumstances by focusing all of its resources on helping the community adjust to the pandemic. The Maxmin campaign called every senior citizen in the district to ask whether they needed any assistance, and the Bluebonnet team created an interactive map to allow constituents to easily find COVID-safe grocery store times, locate health services, and access food delivery and meal services. The campaign’s good-faith effort to inform and assist the citizens of the district was both the right thing to do and the most effective way to run a campaign given the circumstances.
Unpredictable circumstances and shifting project needs are part of campaigning, and Bluebonnet fellows serve as a part of the campaign team so that they can adapt to shifting priorities. In the case of COVID-19, Bluebonnet teams across the country were able to help their campaigns through projects like the Maxmin Team’s COVID resource map.
Personalized Volunteer Thank You Cards
Data analysis is key to informing campaign strategy, but it can also keep volunteers engaged. Later in the campaign cycle, when phone banking was in full swing, Chloe’s Bluebonnet Data team took on a project to help motivate, engage, and support the campaign volunteers. The Bluebonnet Data team created a script to produce personalized thank you sheets for volunteers, pulling data from Votebuilder to display to the volunteer and demonstrate their contributions to the campaign. Chloe’s campaign mobilized an extraordinary number of volunteers to make calls, and these thank you cards helped to keep them engaged and interested in the campaign.
A portion of the personalized content that volunteers would receive in their award cards.