Why we lost: An analysis of the “No on 8” campaign

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a student at Harvard Divinity School and the director of The Progressive Project (which was active in the No on 8 campaign) offered an analysis of why the campaign lost, with a focus on the failings of the field campaign:

On November 4, Proposition 8 passed in California, enshrining in the state constitution a ban on same sex marriage. Similar amendments also passed in Florida and Arizona. We have now lost campaigns like this in 29 states; we have won only once – in Arizona in 2006. On a human level, these defeats are a blow to people across the nation who care about civil rights and equality. On a strategic level, they are explicable; after all, we continue to rely on the same strategies despite mounting evidence that they do not work.

What is required as the LGBT movement goes forward is a commitment to permanent political engagement and a national grassroots strategy and infrastructure that complement our national legal strategy. We must also finally do what our opponents have long been doing: treating each statewide ballot measure as a national campaign.

. . .

Proposition 8 passed by 510,591 votes. We don’t know if that gap could have been closed. But we do know that the “No on 8” campaign could have run a more visionary, nimble and aggressive field strategy. Ultimately the field strategy came up short in two critical, related areas:

First, the “No on 8” campaign did not become national until October, limiting both the volunteers and donors it could engage.

Second, the campaign’s field strategy failed to effectively reach enough swing voters enough times to turn them out as “no” voters.

. . .

Geography is no longer a barrier to engaging in political campaigns: new media technology, social networking features, and online predictive dialing systems mean that people can participate in a campaign from anywhere in the country.

The “Yes on 8” campaign was able to make this a national effort from the start, by tapping into the infrastructure of churches and online networks like Focus on the Family that know how to mobilize quickly. Additionally, they immediately saw both the national and historic implications of this campaign, arguing that it mattered at least as much as the presidential race.

In contrast, the “No on 8” campaign did not become national until October and even then it remained challenging for people outside California to engage as anything but donors. The common explanation for this is that there simply wasn’t enough time. Yet as early as 2006, I was told by strategists at a national LGBT organization that they fully anticipated fighting an anti-marriage ballot measure in California in 2008, and that it represented a rare chance to win. During the last two years, it would have been both prudent and strategic to develop a blueprint for a national campaign that could be quickly activated when the ballot measure was announced.

Instead, the campaign got off to a fitful and inaccessible start in May. It was not until June that volunteers in California were able to participate meaningfully in the campaign; and not until September that out-of-state volunteers were able to do anything more than give money. During this time, efforts to engage (by hosting remote phonebanks, and by coming to California to volunteer) were met by near radio silence from the campaign.

Read it all here.

For those involved in the No on 8 campaign: does this analysis ring true?

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