Evidence + Research
The MVP Model
We believe investing in local organizing is the most effective way to win elections, transform policy, and usher in a progressive era in which everyone can flourish.
A growing body of evidence validates the MVP approach. Here is a sampling.
- Voter Turnout
- Limitations of Political Ads
- Broad Political Targeting
- Down-Ballot Focus, Up-Ballot Turnout
- “State Ecosystem” Approach
Union of Concerned Scientists • Ohio (July 2023)
- Voters identified by neighborhood captains showed a 27% turnout increase.
- Youth engaged by relational organizing were almost twice as likely to vote.
“These findings clearly show how relational organizing can help overcome persistent inequalities in voter turnout. …Together we can improve participation and the health of our democracy at a time when we desperately need it.”
Empower Project • Nevada (February 2023)
Nevada Paid Relational Persuasion Analysis, by Empower Project
Context: Empower Project tested the persuasion effects of paid relational organizing with a randomized controlled trial experiment in Nevada in 2022.
- Relational organizing had a 2.7% persuasion effect in the Governor’s race — over double the best-performing midterm tactic studied by the Analyst Institute.
- Among self-reported Trump voters, outreach increased the rate of voting for the Democratic candidate for Governor by 5.0 percentage points.
Community Change Action • AZ, GA, MI, NV, WI (2020)
Building an Electoral Powerhouse: Relational Voter Turnout & Digital Organizing, by Community Change Action
Context: Community Change Action (CCA) ran A/B testing on its hybrid digital and offline relational organizing model in the 2020 elections.
- Peer outreach showed a 20-point turnout increase vs. generic text message.
- Gains were largest among Black, Latino, Native, young, and immigrant voters.
- Among Democrats and likely Democrats, Black men showed the greatest increase (+21%) followed by Hispanic women (+17.7%).
Analyst Institute (AI), a top progressive and civic research group, has conducted rigorous, ongoing meta-analyses comparing the effectiveness of voter contact tactics.
MVP is a proud member of AI’s Analyst Group, and uses these findings to corroborate the effectiveness of warm, relational voter engagement tactics used by MVP partners.
Analyst Institute asks its members to not share (or even summarize) the results of findings, but encourages professionals in the progressive, civic engagement, and social justice community to join their member community.
While candidate-based giving often funds ad spending (typically 45% of a Congressional campaign budget), MVP invests in locally-rooted organizing that can mobilize voters that ads cannot easily reach.
Priorities USA (April 2021)
Context: After the 2020 election, Priorities USA analyzed the $5.4 billion in Democratic and Republican ad spending by candidate campaigns and outside groups.
- Democrats likely spent 10% of their ad budgets on voters who’d already voted.
- “Roughly $334 million was wasted on people who had cast their ballot.”
- 75% of TV ads for U.S. House races were shown to voters in other districts.
- “Meanwhile, too little is spent on mobilizing voters, especially down ballot.”
“If we took just 1% of the late spending and invested it in additional organizing infrastructure on the ground, we could generate an immensely higher longer-term return on investment.”
Cambridge University (November 2021)
The Effect of Television Advertising in United States Elections, by John Sides, Lynn Vavreck, and Christopher Warshaw
Context: This comprehensive Cambridge University study examined 4,500 federal and state-level races from 2000-2018 to assess the influence of TV ads on election results. The study provides “the most comprehensive analysis of advertising effects to date.”
- TV ads do have an impact, but much less in presidential vs. down-ballot races — and mostly for persuasion (changing undecided voters’ attitudes on candidates), not mobilization (getting partisan voters to vote).
- TV ads only likely sway outcomes “in close races where one party is able to muster a substantial advertising advantage. But we do not claim that this is a common occurrence.”
- The trend of increased partisan polarization and decreased split-ticket voting could “lead to a decrease in the effect of television advertising on elections.”
We believe targeting “Toss-Up” states and races is essential but not enough. If we want to ensure electoral wins now while growing long-lasting governing power, we need to invest in a wider electoral map.
Square One (September 2023)
Context: Square One assessed 2021-2022 U.S. House race spending, in an effort to assess and ultimately improve the impact of spending on electoral outcomes.
- U.S. House race competitiveness is extremely unpredictable.
- In 2022, the races with the most outside investment were not the closest.
“While there’s no perfect formula for allocating outside dollars, this report does suggest … campaign strategies often deemed “too risky” can actually be a winning strategy. This includes investing in more women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, districts across the country long perceived as “unwinnable,” and campaign tactics like field and other forms of direct voter engagement.”
MVP invests in local organizations that focus not only on federal races but also on the state, county, and local elections that have a direct impact on voters’ daily lives.
MVP partners get out the vote for these races, as well as identify, recruit, and develop candidates to run in them.
When we invest in local races, we create a “multiplier effect.”
For Our Future + Run for Something (November 2021)
Reverse Coattails Effect 2016-2020, by BlueLabs Analytics
Context: Run for Something and For Our Future commissioned BlueLabs to study whether Democrats contesting state legislative races could increase vote-share at the top of the ticket in battleground states.
- “Folks running for state and local offices were responsible for increasing turnout for statewide or national candidates.”
- “Across states and cycles, we found an estimated 0.4% – 2.3% bump in top-of-ticket vote share when every local state legislature seat within a precinct is challenged.”
- “While Democratic candidates running in districts that would be otherwise uncontested Republican races may not win those seats, they may provide an important vote share bump in close statewide contests”.
“The dollars spent locally go further because they directly reach and educate voters through community based organizing in ways ad-buys and big campaigns can’t. They also build political infrastructure and talent, allowing for us to take a deep red district and over many years, turn it competitive. No race goes from 70/30 to 50/50 overnight!”
Rather than only funding a few big-name organizations working in silos, MVP invests in a diversified “ecosystem” of groups within a state, working together to build lasting power.
This approach has shown results in several states, most notably Minnesota:
Georgetown University (January 2024)
Aligning for Power: A Case Study of Bargaining for the Common Good in Minnesota, by James C. Benton, Patrick Dixon, and Joseph A. McCartin at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor
Context: In 2022, Democrats won a state trifecta for the first time in a decade, and became empowered to enact an almost-dizzyingly vast progressive agenda. But these breakthroughs did not just happen overnight — they were the result of a coordinated, decade-long organizing strategy by progressive grassroots groups.
In “Aligning for Power,” the authors at the Kalmanovitz Initiative lay out this came to pass thanks to over a decade of coordinated work by labor and community organizations, including MVP partners TakeAction Minnesota and Unidos Minnesota.
- “A foundational insight… was that they were not constructing a transitory coalition, they were building an enduring alignment.” (p.12)
- “The issues that the Minnesota alignment had been campaigning on for years helped to shape political debate in 2022. Having helped the DFL win the “trifecta,” the social and political ecosystem that had emerged … then helped shape a governing agenda that came to dramatic fruition in 2023.” (p.27)
- “The political and legislative breakthroughs won there were not the product of a campaign that set out from the beginning to wage political and legislative fights. Rather, the Minnesota victories began in struggles that brought together workers, renters, immigrants, and others in campaigns that challenged corporate power and built power through direct action and the alignment of multiple organizations and constituencies around a common analysis.” (p.29)
What happened in 2023 was less a miracle than the sweet fruits of a long, innovative campaign built around a brilliant and flexible operational model that aligned multiple membership organizations around a common analysis, deep organizing, and community mobilization.