Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yes on 522: Lessons Learned

Yes on 522: The campaign to label genetically engineered foods in Washington state:

If I-522 winds up not passing, which looks like will be the case, I don’t think you can blame it all on the money.

Yes, a lot of money was spent on the campaign – by both sides. The No campaign spent over $22 million, and the Yes campaign spent over $8 million. Of the combined total, only 8% came from within Washington. This race was funded by outside corporate interests because they saw it as a proxy vote for nation that is growing more concerned about where its food comes from and is conflicted over labeling GE food.

I think the poll conducted by Stuart Elway in October is worth thinking about. He found that people who saw only Yes ads overwhelmingly planned to vote yes. People who saw only No ads overwhelmingly planned to vote no. People who saw no ads were slightly more inclined to vote yes. But of the people who saw both types of ads more planned to vote no than yes.
I think this last point is key. Both sides ran ads that were inaccurate and misleading, but I believe the ads from the No side were far more effective and aimed at some of the key issues that most voters care about – food prices, jobs, and government overreach.

I believe the Yes side ran a poor campaign. This began several years ago during the signature gathering phase when they opted for paid signature gatherers rather than building a vigorous grassroots campaign. They also made the decision early on to concentrate their efforts in King County/Central Puget sound, with most of the signatures gathered in those areas. In fact a high percent were gathered at PCC markets in Seattle and co-ops and other natural food markets, people who were most inclined to vote for the initiative.

I was invited to one of the early strategy meetings, and it was obvious to me that the folks behind the initiative, though well intention, had no experience with political campaigns and were not thinking strategic ally about how to build a strong statewide network of support via the signature campaign, which would then serve as a base for a strong statewide campaign to pass the initiative the following year.

In fact, there was sort of the sense that once the signatures were collected they could rest easy, and some of the key folks involved in the signature effort, including the person who filed the initiative, stepped aside once the signatures were gathered.

After seeing where things were headed I declined the Yes campaign’s invitation to become more involved in the summer of 2012, as I did not think the initiative would pass based on where things were headed, and they were not interested in hearing the perspective that I or others were sharing.

The county level results are interesting.&nb sp; The initiative seems to only be passing in 4 counties:

1) San Juan, which already had voted in place a local ban on GMOs last year
2) Whatcom, which the state’s largest number of certified organic farms’
3) Jefferson, which has for years been building a vigorous grassroots local/organic food movement
4) King, where the vast majority of initiative signatures were collected

The fact that the initiative failed in every other county ties back to the decision to not build a vigorous statewide grassroots campaign, beginning with the signature drive.

I really hope progressives will look at the results of this election and not simply point to the big bad corporations and outside money to explain the results. Yes, these are big factors. But equally important is the weak campaign and lack of strategic political thinking by the Yes folks.

Those of us with progressive political instincts need to sharpen our strategic thinking and be much smarter about how we pursue realization of our goals through the electoral process. Progressives have the big hearts and good values, but sometimes we lack the brains to match.

No comments:

Post a Comment