Binder: Labor Supported Efforts Have Key Impact on Election Results

By Rebecca Greenberg, California Labor Federation

This year, unions stepped up like never before to beat back Meg Whitman's corporate takeover of California. Over the course of the campaign, Labor engaged more than 2 million California union members with broad grassroots efforts that included 30,000 volunteers making millions of contacts — on the phone, at the door and at the worksite — to expose Whitman's Wall Street agenda. As a result of a massive program by the California Labor Federation, Central Labor Councils and affiliated unions, union members had a key impact on Tuesday’s election results.

But given Whitman's unlimited resources, Labor also needed to reach beyond union members to communicate with key groups like blue-collar non-union voters, Latinos and Asian Americans about the stakes in this election.

Yesterday at a briefing in Sacramento, leading pollster David Binder highlighted Labor's efforts to expand the reach to non-union voters through targeted communication on issues like jobs and the economy, which contributed significantly to Tuesday's landslide victory for Jerry Brown.

According to Binder’s analysis, Whitman initially started off the campaign in a good position, with her enormous cash advantage, early lead in the polls and appeal to women. But over the summer, labor-supported independent expenditure efforts — led by California Working Families for Jerry Brown 2010, chaired by the leaders of the California Professional Firefighters, State Building and Construction Trades and SEIU — stepped in with TV ads and targeted communications to key constituencies. Labor also launched several public campaigns, including California Nurses Association’s (CNA) “Queen Meg” campaign and the California Labor Federation’s “Wall Street Whitman” campaign. As a result, voters became more informed and began to question Whitman’s true agenda and readiness for governance.

Whitman’s favorability ratings began to tank in early August, and continued to decline in September, as undecided voters started moving towards Brown, and Whitman’s initial appeal among women disintegrated. According to Binder:

The campaigns, as they took effect, drove voters to view Meg Whitman more negatively and we also saw a movement towards Jerry Brown as voters received more communication both from the Brown campaign and the various independent expenditure campaigns. By the end of this fall cycle, voters believed Jerry Brown had a stronger capacity to fix the economy than Meg Whitman. As voters learned more about the candidates, they felt Whitman was a much riskier choice than Jerry Brown. 

The women’s vote was 46% to 42% in favor of Brown in September. But on Election Day, Jerry Brown won women by 16 points, 55% to 39%, according to exit polls. So the lead she had [with women] turned into a strong lead for Jerry, due to the messaging and communication to voters from the independent expenditures.

AFSCME, the California Teachers Association, CNA, IBEW and other unions continued to provide support on TV and radio for Brown, and UFCW and CFT also supported those efforts. At the same time, Labor launched targeted communications to Latinos through campaigns led by SEIU’s “Cambiando California,” the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and other groups, which ended up playing a pivotal role in Brown’s victory. According to “Cambiando California’s” Mike Garcia:

This was the most unified, cooperative and strongest effort that I have ever experienced. We framed this campaign around values and character. At the end of the day, that was what the fight was all about: which candidates had the values that were more in line with working families and the Latino Community.

Binder also underscored the importance of the Cambiando California campaign.

On Labor Day, Latinos were favoring Jerry Brown versus Meg Whitman by 14 points. But by Election Day, according to exit polls, there was a 34-point margin among Latino voters for Jerry Brown. He had a 2-to-1 advantage that was not necessarily going to be the case at the beginning of the campaign. If there was no campaigning, no efforts to reach out to Latino voters from Cambiando California and other groups, we would not have seen this change in the Latino electorate. It wasn’t just the proportion of Latinos that selected Jerry Brown, it was also the amount of Latinos that came to the polls, another key factor.

In addition to member-to-member and independent expenditure campaigns, Labor also launched our sophisticated “Million More Voters” micro-targeting program, which ended up targeting more than 2.8 million voters. California Labor Federation’s Art Pulaski:

The “Million More Voters” program is a micro-targeting program that we have been doing for a couple of years but we used it for the first time in this election. It has helped us really understand a big portion of the electorate who are working-class people but who are not our members. We looked at Central Valley and the Inland Empire as primary areas for us to focus on for the “Million More Voters” program, because we knew that those areas are in fact the swing areas of the state for any statewide elections.

The Million More Voters effort also included message research, a sophisticated Internet component reaching millions online, TV ads, and a targeted mail and phone program to Asian Americans in four languages.

As the campaign shifted to GOTV, the independent expenditure field efforts played a big role in mobilizing non-union voters. The Alliance for a Better California — a coalition of labor groups — and the California School Employees Association (CSEA) CAUSE field effort helped turn out millions of voters, utilizing the targeting provided by the California Labor Federation’s Million More Voters.

Dave Low, CSEA:

Unions came together and pooled our resources and ran a field campaign using paid staff, union members, release staff and volunteers to talk to 2.8 million voters that were non-union members that were either persuadable voters or occasional voters that would likely not turn out to the polls.  We turned out a huge number of those people on Election Day to increase the margin of victory.  

This dynamic convergence of direct member-to-member contact, independent expenditures and micro-targeting made California Labor an even stronger force to be reckoned with. It also marked the most unified approach California Labor has every taken in any campaign. And it worked, as Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer and working family candidates in nearly all statewide races claimed victory on election night. The Republican wave that ripped through the country was stopped cold in California. A key reason for that was Labor’s unified program.

The message to billionaire candidates like Meg Whitman who would seek to spend hundreds of millions to force a corporate agenda on our state: don’t waste your money; it’s no good here.

Click here to learn more.