Lessons Learned on Motivating Voters from the 2020 Election Cycle

March 26, 2021 by Sara Wilkerson
Election workers prepare to register voters on Election Day at a polling place inside the Bartow Community Center, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

This week, Change Research, a polling research firm, and New Georgia Project, a voting advocacy group, hosted a joint webinar discussion on how polling data was used to motivate and engage the American voting public during the 2020 election cycle.  

Panelists shared their thoughts on strategies taken in Georgia to turn the state blue and how future voting campaigns can use these same strategies in future election cycles. 

The webinar featured panelists Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, Ranada Robinson, NGP’s research director, as well as Lauren Goldstein, a pollster with Change Research. The conversation was moderated by Flora Mendoza, Change Research’s accounts director.  

Starting the conversation with a presentation from Change Research, the webinar focused on polling data findings on the new voting majority.  

The group surveyed 14,135 Georgia voters beginning in June 2020.  

Of those surveyed, pollsters found that nearly 5,000 of these voters were Black voters and most were between the ages of 35-49 (1,099) and 50-64 (1,486). In the same survey, 64% of Black voters said they lived in suburban areas of Georgia.  

When explaining why they focused their findings on the Black electorate, Lauren Goldstein stated, “Our goal was to provide the same degree of nuance and attention and focus to the Black electorate that has traditionally only been applied to White voters. 

“We really wanted to help and understand and showcase and highlight what the nuance looked like among the Black electorate to really enable the New Georgia Project to target their efforts and their outreach and their organizing as effectively as possible,” Goldstein explained. 

Goldstein outlined several areas of interest that Change Research asked voters about in their survey, including their thoughts on identity politics, voter suppression, how they planned on voting on November 3rd, 2020, as well as their thoughts on voter turnout. 

Among their findings from their early September polling, Change Research revealed that voters under 50, women, voters of color and Black voters, as well as independents and voters who did not vote in 2016 were among those who polled favorably for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.  

Additionally, views on voting methods were varied. Forty percent of Georgia voters said they were planning to vote in-person on Election Day, while 34% said they were voting early in person. Additionally, 18% of voters said they planned to vote by absentee ballot and 9% were unsure of how they were going to vote.  

On the subject of voter suppression, Change Research found that most Black voters were more concerned about and familiar with voter suppression than White voters.  

At the same time, both Black and White voters were concerned about mail-in ballots not being counted in time for the election.  

Based on their findings, Change Research shared that educational efforts needed to be made on how voters could vote by mail, especially for those who chose not to vote in 2016.  

The research firm also said that when it came to messaging about early and in-person voting, they advised that voting advocates focus on the “positives” of voting.  

“We were discovering in our polling that voters had a lot of nervousness and apprehension about their mail-in ballot not being counted,” Goldstein explained.  

“And that really underscored for us the importance of not reinforcing those concerns, but again focusing on how to motivate turnout and talk about how to vote and why to vote in a way that was empowering and motivating, rather than demoralizing.” 

Towards the end of her presentation, Goldstein shared some of Change Research’s top priorities for 2021.  

In their effort to support the New Georgia Project, the polling firm says they plan to fight against voter suppression bills in the Georgia state legislature.  

Additionally, Change Research wants to build a coalition of “super voters”, or those who reliably vote in every election, and help recruit and train candidates of color.  

The group is also set to champion federal policies such as H.R.1 and the Justice for Policing Act. 

Following the presentation from Change Research, the panel engaged in a conversation reflecting on how NGP registered over half a million Georgians in time for the 2020 election cycle.  

When asked to reflect on the biggest research achievement from polling data and how it helped NGP in its advocacy efforts, Nsé Ufot talked about how Change Research’s data highlighted the importance of identity labeling in polling data.  

“Our biggest research win is having a partner that has helped us reanimate or to pull out the complexities of… racial identities that often get flattened when we deliver national narratives about what’s happening in American politics,” Ufot stated.  

“With the research in motion aspect, we were really able to use this research to fine tune what we were doing in the field, in almost a ‘real time’ kind of way,” elaborated Robinson.  

Robinson explained that with the joint polling data, NGP was able to, “…really focus on subgroups and not just [broad groups like] Black voters, Latinx voters, young voters, but to be able to really go in on geography, age, race…” and said that having the data, “was super helpful.” 

When asked for specifics on how the data helped with field messaging, Robinson shared that NGP created two marketing advertisements based on polling that suggested that young voters cared about issues such as racial justice and receiving another round of coronavirus stimulus checks from the federal government.  

“The other thing that we were able to do because of the research was [that] we understood that they [young Georgia voters] didn’t necessarily care about the names Warnock and Ossoff, but what they did care about was that they understood that if those two were elected, there was a better chance that the issues that they cared about were being moved forward. 

“And so we infused all of that into those ads. And, you know, we saw very good turnout in rural Georgia and we have to believe that those ads were a part of that,” added Robinson.  

Towards the end of the webinar, Flora Mendoza asked the panel about NGP’s priorities for the year. 

“I’m still trying to organize for the world that I want to live in,” Ufot replied. 

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