Looking back, we know bipartisan support has been required for advocacy campaigns to succeed in divided government. That is also true amidst slim party majorities, which will characterize the 117th Congress. While Democrats may now control both chambers, the margins are small, and it will be imperative to rally a critical mass of voting members from both parties to drive a campaign’s success. And as we saw in 2020, one of the most effective ways to rally that support is by demonstrating local, constituent sentiment for members of Congress through grassroots activation.
1. Local news matters: During the past year, Americans increasingly turned to their local and community news sources, making it essential to have campaign content appear in local outlets. Recent figures show 64 percent of Americans rank local television as their most popular news source – and they are only consuming more of it. Between the first and second quarters of 2020, news consumption increased by 40 percent. This requires staying in touch with local reporters and crafting pitches with local, unique angles. And in the COVID-19 era, it also means connecting with local media virtually.
2. Online and social media are key: With today’s virtual environment, the best way to make local media coverage go farther is with a digital strategy. Americans’ media consumption has increased by 31 percent over the past four years. Any earned media content must be amplified on social media and sent to supporters and influencers. Further, when amplifying earned media online, the messenger is just as important as the message. For this reason, campaigns should find trusted community voices to repost and elevate earned media to ensure the attention of constituents and policymakers.
3. Constituents (voters) receive priority: Constituent correspondence remains a foolproof method to break through in divided government. Personalized emails and letters, in addition to phone calls, are critical to issue advocacy campaigns. They connect constituents directly with their representatives in Washington. While COVID-19 changed the best ways to successfully reach members of Congress, grassroots strategies have evolved to ensure constituents are still able to have contact with their elected officials.
At the start of the COVID-19, up to 69 percent of Americans were always or sometimes working from home. As governors and mayors initiated new public health rules, as racial justice protests drew attention to local police budgets and policies, and as local jurisdictions now oversee the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, more Americans are paying attention to their local communities and news sources in 2021 than ever before. While local concerns have always been central to grassroots strategies, all campaigns would be wise to have constituents and local stakeholders drive the bulk of advocacy this year — particularly given the nature of Congress today.